As Americans begin preparation to commemorate Memorial Day, special services are planned, keynote speeches are written, programs printed, poppies distributed and uniforms are dusted off as Americans prepare to celebrate and honor those who died for the freedom that we too often take for granted.
Not all of America’s fallen sons and daughters are buried in U.S. soil. Some remain in the countries they died to save.
An example would be the World War II-era Netherlands American Cemetery near Maastricht. Buried on the grounds of that cemetery are the remains of 8,301 soldiers who died to liberate the country from the Nazi army.
It is a beautiful well-kept cemetery with a memorial tower, a reflecting pool and statues. The 65-acre cemetery is impressive, but beyond the physical attractiveness there is an even greater tribute offered by the people of Maastricht. They have a great deal of appreciation for the sacrifice of those 8,301 soldiers – more than most realize.
Since 1945, the families of this community and beyond have taken on the individual responsibility of caring for the graves of American service members. They make certain that the grave site is clean and the memorials are well cared for. They bring flowers to beautify these graves.
Further, some have even researched the life of the soldier they honor. Over the years there has been extensive coverage in the media of these efforts made by residents of the communities whose futures were preserved by U.S. service members.
One grateful local person put it this way: “They truly are our liberators and heroes.”
Consider Oscar Priem, who lives in Maastricht, Netherlands with his wife and son Max. His family adopted the grave of Howard R. Dodge who was born Sept. 19, 1925 in Renville County.
PFC Howard Dodge served with the 75th Infantry Division, 291st Infantry Regiment. He died more than 70 years ago May 21,1945 in the Netherlands and is buried at Maastricht. His awards include: Combat Infantryman Badge, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Oscar and his son Max regularly visit Howard Dodge’s grave. They bring flowers and consider the gift of freedom. For several months there has been an attempt to track down the family of Howard Dodge whose parents are believed to have lived in Hector.
A list obtained of six nephews has not identified a family member to learn of the efforts of the Priem family. Research continues in an attempt to discover a connection that has been missed.
In Oscar’s words, “We do not want anything from the family of Howard Dodge. The only thing we want is that they know that people appreciate what the soldiers did for us and our freedom, and that they know we're taking care of the grave as our thanks for that. If the family wants pictures and any information, we are happy to send it to them, no strings attached. We take care of the grave because I think it’s important for the upbringing of our son.”
He adds, “Hope you'll get lucky someday and find some family who appreciates this.”
Howard Dodge had a family who is certainly proud of their kinsman who gave his life for the freedom of others.
If you have knowledge of, are a family member or simply want to thank the Priem family, Oscar, Myranda and Max, you can contact them at email@example.com.
– Patricia Buschette is the editor of the Renville community oral history “As I Remember . . . A celebration of Community” and the author of “Locked Up in Frost.” She is a fourth generation resident of Renville.