Ambassador Henne Schuwer said during the ceremony that the Netherlands remains grateful for the risks the allies took to liberate Europe, and he thanked the Margraten Men’s Choir for performing and helping honor the fallen.
By Irene Rozendaal
Public Diplomacy, Press and Culture, Royal Netherlands Embassy
Four words explain how Dutch people feel about their World War II liberators: “We will never forget.”
We write them on ribbons that wrap around wreaths.
Dutch families live them while caring for the graves of fallen US soldiers in Margraten.
And the Margraten Men’s Choir express them when they sing.
All three came together during a wreath-laying ceremony on September 28 at the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Va., to commemorate the 74th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. Allied forces, including servicemen from the United States, launched Operation Market Garden in 1944 in the Netherlands in an attempt to clear a path into Nazi Germany and end World War II.
The Netherlands Embassy organized the ceremony to mark the anniversary and honor the 8,301 American soldiers buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten.
The Margraten Men’s Choir
Members of the Margraten Men’s Choir are descendants of families deeply attached to the history and importance of the Netherlands American Cemetery. Their families witnessed the bodies of American soldiers being transported through the village of Margraten, and many local men helped dig the graves of the cemetery in 1944 and 1945.
Dutch families have adopted every grave, and they visit the cemetery regularly to pay respects to the fallen soldiers. The waiting list for adopting a grave is more than 500 people long.
Ambassador Henne Schuwer said during the ceremony that the Netherlands remains grateful for the risks the allies took to liberate Europe, and he thanked the choir for performing and helping honor the fallen.
“They tell their story in their songs. They tell the story of their liberators, they tell the story of hope, they tell the story of the enjoyment of freedom that we have experienced since 1945, and they do that in their songs,” Ambassador Schuwer said.
“They perform their songs all over to spread the word of our gratitude for the state in which we live, for the liberation that we experienced,” he said.
Carillonneur Edward Nassor played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The Wilhelmus” on the Netherlands Carillon after an impressive two minutes of silence in which the only sound was the rustling of the American and Dutch flags in the wind.
The Margraten Men’s Choir and the Foundation for Adopting Graves American Cemetery Margraten visited the United States to tell the story of Margraten during the September 28 ceremony.
Ton Hermes, chairman of the Foundation for Adopting Graves American Cemetery Margraten gave a speech during the ceremony.
“Thousands of American soldiers were quartered in our homes, schools, and everywhere. Photos were made, and local people got connected to families in the United States,” Hermes said. “For a long period of time, the soldiers stayed with the people of Margraten, leading to personal friendships and strong bonds.”
Sadly, Hermes said, some of those soldiers were killed on the battlefield and buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery.
Twenty-five American veterans also attended the wreath-laying ceremony. They were thankful that the Netherlands still remembers American soldiers who were killed during World War II.
Performance in Orange Baptist Church
The day after the wreath-laying ceremony, the choir and the foundation traveled to Orange, Va., to perform at Orange Baptist Church.
After an emotional performance and a lot of applause in the crowded church, one of the members of the choir, Harrie van Beers, former mayor of Margraten, took the microphone to highlight the bond between the United States and the Netherlands.
He told the audience the choir was honored to perform for their American friends. Its performance was a way of thanking the United States for liberating the Netherlands during World War II. The friendship between the Netherlands and the United State “has all to do with ordinary people, and the relationship between them. … I sincerely hope that this will be an everlasting friendship. This is also important for the upcoming generation because we have so many values to share.”
The Margraten Men’s Choir and the Foundation for Adopting Graves American Cemetery Margraten are the perfect illustration of the Dutch commitment to honor American World War II soldiers.