The Dutch celebrate Memorial Day for two consecutive dates.
May 4 is their National Remembrance Day, which honors those who gave their lives in WWII, and during May 5 they celebrate Liberation Day, when the occupying force in the Netherlands accepted the truce negotiations which began the day before and the Dutch people were liberated.
Many Minnesotans gave all during the Second World War, and some never returned home, making their final resting place in 65-and-a-half acres of land outside of a rural town named Margraten.
Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio writes in his online column about the small Netherlands town of Margraten, the home to the American War Cemetery and Memorial.
There 8,301 soldiers are laid to rest, with another 1,722 names of missing troops listed on a monument wall; 235 of these graves belong to Minnesotans.
The people of Margraten have never stopped honoring the Americans who helped save their country and honor them every two years by decorating the graves with the soldiers’ photos.
Many of these citizens have adopted graves of the fallen and researched their lives.
Joek Hulsman is one such person. He adopted the grave of a Virginia, Minn. man. Sharing about their history, Hulsman talks about American soldiers and airmen who lost their lives in campaigns from September 1944 and onwards.
“In the Netherlands, there’s a beautiful patch of ground which is forever American…over 16,000 soldiers were brought to Margraten and buried there in temporary graves,” said Hulsman. “The first American was buried, the local Dutch people placed flowers at the graves of their liberators, which they never stopped doing.”
Some of those soldiers were later exhumed and returned home for burial. Hulsman works for Medtronic which has a Minnesota connection. He began networking with locals in an effort to seek out photographs and information on the 74 Minnesotans who have no photos.
He hopes to honor as many new additions as possible.
In February Hulsman reached out to the Redwood County Historical Society for help locating a photo of Pfc. Lawrence Storch of Lamberton. He was killed in action April 13, 1945. He was 29 years old, and records show Storch was interred at Plot N, Row 19, Grave 4 of Margraten’s American War Cemetery and Memorial.
After some searching, the RCHS was able to locate the family members of Pfc. Storch and supply Hulsman with an appropriate photograph. Not stopping with the one image, the historical society took Hulsman’s mission to heart and helped locate the family and photo of another missing soldier, Pvt. John Detlefsen.
The Renville County Historical Society also got involved. Linda Balk, head of its genealogical society, said they were able to supply Hulsman with the photos of five soldiers.
“We have everything on microfilm and newspaper. It wasn’t that hard finding the information,” said Balk. “Once I had the dates of the soldiers’ deaths, I just looked in the back issues of the newspapers for obituaries.”
From Renville County, they found Vernon Romness of Sacred Heart, George Works and Howard Dodge of Hector, Herbert Schulte of Bird Island and George Spevacek of Olivia. They contacted the families of some and were able to get better photos than what they had archived.
There are still a number of servicemen whose photographs Hulsman is searching for.
Of the 74 troops with missing photos, a number have been found since publicizing a list of these soldiers.
The public is invited to help by checking the list for anyone they may have a connection to and helping Hulsman on his quest…much like the local county historical society did. There is a Dutch Web site that is devoted to the project (www.thefacesofmargraten.com).
The MPR Web site also has a list of the Minnesota names and their home areas. That list can be found at blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2018/03/as-wwii-memories-fade-a-town-in-the-netherlands-refuses-to-forget.