- Published: Monday, 12 October 2009 13:42
A Remembrance During Time of War
Kandahar City, Afghanistan
Slowly, surely, the city is being strangled. Signaling the depth of our commitment, security forces are thinner in Kandahar than the Himalayan air. During the days and evenings, there were the sounds of occasional bombs—some caused by suicide attackers, and others by firefights. The windows in my room had been blown out recently and now were replaced. We came here to kill our enemies, but today we want to make a country from scratch.
A world away from Afghanistan, over in Holland, was approaching the 65th anniversary of the allied liberation from Nazi occupation, and I had been invited to attend by James “Maggie” Megellas. Maggie, who had fought his way through Holland and is today remembered there as a hero, is said to be the most decorated officer in the history of the 82nd Airborne Division. Now 92, Maggie has recently spent about two months tooling around the battlefields of Afghanistan, and though it would be an honor to finally meet him, there was the matter of extracting myself from Kandahar City and getting through about forty minutes of dangerous territory to the military base at Kandahar Airfield.
And so a friend and I donned local garb and loaded into the car.
Criminals and Taliban were on the lookout for westerners to kidnap, and unknown to us an intelligence report had just been issued that men in a stolen Toyota Corolla were on the prowl in Kandahar City.
The camera was mostly kept down but occasionally I lifted for quick shots. Kandahar City, like other main Afghan cities, belies the fact that most Afghans will never have one minute of electricity, nor will they ever see a westerner.
Afghan police love to jet around at high speeds in their trucks, often with powerful machine guns mounted on back.
Shortly after this photo was taken, my friend, who had been a South African cop for 16 years, spotted two men in a white Toyota Corolla who had locked onto us. They drove swiftly by for a look-see, then hit a Y intersection ahead on the right. They tried to get back in, but traffic slowed them by about ten seconds. I was watching over my shoulder when they dangerously bolted back into the traffic a couple hundred meters behind us. The camera was on the floorboard. I had picked up a pistol and rested it on my right thigh. My friend rolled down his window and I rolled down mine. They were moving in. In less than a minute, someone probably would die. The car was speeding closer when per chance a green Afghan police pickup rocketed by the pursuers. The green police truck was mounted with a machine gun, and a long belt of ammo was dangling, while a policeman kept his hands on the gun. I hid the pistol. The pursuers slowed. We continued at about 40mph as the police swooshed by. The police pulled off the road a few hundred meters ahead of us and the white car fell back more, until it passed the police and began to speed up, but that was it. The pursuers were caught behind too many trucks and fell away. I put down the pistol and picked up the camera.
None of the paved roads in Afghanistan were built by Afghan vision with Afghan resources. If not for the many foreign invaders, this land would be road-and runway-free.
An American convoy of MRAPs approached from the front and a soldier in the lead vehicle shot a pen-flare, causing everyone to pull off the road. The convoys are more menacing from the outside and in fact I kept the camera down and this is exactly why Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is concerned about adding too many troops. Can’t argue with his reasoning; convoys and troops truly are menacing despite that U.S. and British soldiers are very disciplined. It must look far worse to Afghans. Most Afghans never talk with foreign soldiers and those who do normally only see us in passing. In fact, most soldiers never leave base. Our forces at KAF (Kandahar Airfield) have a base so large that this commercial jet is about to land there after flying dangerously over this unsecured road.
After arriving at Kandahar Airfield, the Dutch Air Force took me, and long after midnight we boarded a Canadian C-130 and flew to Dubai.
From Dubai, the Dutch soldiers got onto a chartered flight to Eindhoven, Netherlands.
Over the Arabian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, skirting Iraq.
Finally into Holland, we landed at the Dutch Air Force Base at Eindhoven, where families and others were waiting for Dutch soldiers. Someone shoved a rose and a gift into my hand and I smiled, protesting that I am only a writer, and tried unsuccessfully to return the rose and the gift.
There was a short taxi ride to the hotel.
And right there in the lobby was a throng of World War II veterans whose first trips to Europe had been either under parachute into combat, or by gliders into combat. (As would be revealed over the next five days.) So I sat down with Guadelupe Flores because he was sitting alone while people crowded around other vets. His grandson Matt came over. I hadn’t even fully checked in yet. Guadelupe said he was from Texas originally but now lived in Ohio, and he’d just arrived. “Did you parachute in this time?” I asked. Guadelupe only chuckled, “Not this time,” and chuckled some more. Please have a look at Guadelupe’s left eye. This is the last picture before he got the black eye, which is a funny story. (Guadelupe was on the Army boxing team, he would later say.)
Maggie Megellas was there along with a large group of American university students who had broken off with small groups of veterans. A man said that General Petraeus’ staff was here and General Petraeus was coming to stay at the same hotel.
Finally I got to the room and there was an email from Afghanistan:
I've heard we had to be on the lookout for a group of kidnappers, targeting expats in Kandahar. Apparently they are using a stolen white Toyota Corolla station wagon and a red Toyota Surf. Wonder if we “met” them yesterday?
Actually there had been two suspected vehicles that seemed like they might be working together, but I didn’t mention the second vehicle. Every day in the war is a close call.
The Market Garden remembrance was to begin in the morning.
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This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoGreat work Michael I'm a member of a belgium reinactment club the patton drivers and owns a dodge WC 54 ambulance after seeing this pictures I hope to take part one day at this great commemoration in holland.Keep up the good work charles
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years ago"Now do you believe that Dutch people treat our veterans like rock stars and Royalty? Are you tired? Is this dispatch too long? But wait. It’s not over yet"
HAHA I never doubted you for a minute, but those photos and events were still incredible to behold. May God Bless the Dutch and Holland. Wonderful dispatch.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoThank you for this work! I pray to God that our friends in Holland can win their fight with radical islam, they seem to be a country that "gets it".
This was not too long. The vets day are few, and I know they will treasure this trip and ceremony for the rest of their lives. This tribute got to me. Different wars and different eras, but the fighters are timeless. Those who claim America is going to hell are wrong.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoMike -- superb piece, too short (if anything), and the photos were fantastic. I've known for sometime how well the Nederlanders honor the Allied soldiers who liberated them. A member of my late uncle's infantry squad from the 95th ID is buried in Margraten, and his grave has been in the special care of a Dutch family for many years.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoBravo ... my father was a WW II vet ... at Lt in the medical corps .... I am proud of America!
Thank you ... this is why ...
Best wishes ... God Bless
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoNice!!!!! Many of these bring back memories of my time in Normandy during the D-Day celebrations this summer. Talking to the veterans, American, British, Canadian, Belgian, and French (resistance) was THE highlight of our time there. In fact, on page 4, in the picture with Ralph is a Brit sitting in a wheelchair. I met him and his "driver" in St Mere Eglise. They are 100 and 89, respectively.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoDear Sir,
Thank you very much for your article and photo's. I'm glad Americans can read that a lot of Dutchmen have adopted graves of fallen American soldiers. I have also adopted several graves. By doing this I will hope to keep the memory alive of what your countrymen and great nation did for my parents and my people.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoDear Michael,
It would take some time, but the British MERLIN is about the best helicopter in the world today for medivac missions in areas like Afghanistan. It is a helicopter over powered for its size and can easily operate in hot-high climates. The British are now bringing up to speed some MERLIN medivac helicopter pilots and crews in California. The Danes had done them a favor and sold back some rescue MERLINs that they had bought. On one condition. That some of their pilots and crews could train with the British medivac MERLINs in California and on combat missions in Afghanistan. Because the Danes are probably the # NATO country that is pulling more of its' weight in Afghanistan (for what ever reason its soldiers volunteer or it in numbers and want to go to Afghanistan and fight). They plan to send a large MERLIN medivac unit to Afghanistan in the near future.
Jack E. Hammond
NOTE> The first MERLINs crews in Afghanistan discovered that the low sound level of that helicopter made it much more survivable than the CH-47 Chinook (the king of helicopters in Afghanistan, although as the British say, it can be detected from take off to combat LZ to back to base by the Taliban by its sound level).
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoMichael
thanks, a very emotional and moving piece. Having been to Nijmegen and seen the sites and war graves I know the impact it has.
For interest to others, when Market Garden failed and Holland was set to starve thoughout the winter, known as the "Hongerwinter", the Allies and Germans agreed a plan "operation Manna" for food drops in April and May to relieve the starvation in certain areas. Over 5000 flights were made through agreed corridors to drop food, some of the planes going in so low that they had to look up to see the Dutch people waving to them. It didn't stop the starvation, but it helped to relieve a very dire time for the Dutch.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoI am from Arnhem, my wife from Nijmegen. I sincerely hope one day the Iraqi and Afghani people can look back like I do and truly appreciate the sacrifice that was made. I'm sorry to have missed this year's ceremonies, but instead I spent the time vacationing for the first time with my wife and baby daughter. Maybe just carrying on with my life in happiness and liberty is the greatest compliment I can make to those who gave their lives.
I'll be at the Arnhem bridge though, I love these men and what they stand for.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoI wish Americans celebrated Memorial Day like the Dutch do! Thank you for your report. I read the whole thing from start to finish in one sitting. I could not take myself away from it. It was not too long! May God be with you and keep you safe along with all our troops in harms way!
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoA pity that you were not at the ceremony for Ltc Cole (MoH) His monument is now very close to the spot he was shot.
This commment is unpublished.· 11 years agoThak you , Michael, for this report. It was particularly inspiring to note that so many young people seemed genuinely interested in the veterans and their stories. I was astonished at the re-enactment volunteers. There's no better way to teach the important lessons across the generations that these kinds of things. It seems a rare thing these days that there would be such an outpouring of appreciation -- indeed, affection -- for what those "oh-so-young men of the 101st did. I guess that their reputation and the level of appreciation is in proportion to the Dutch citizens realizing they were giving their all -- for them. It's nice to know they are still appreciated, 60 years later. The adoption of a cross by a Dutch family in the American Battle Monuments Cemetery is touching indeed.
This commment is unpublished.· 6 years agoHello,
My nam e is Kevin Casner. I live in the Charlotte, North Carolina area of the USA.
My father is Raymond Casner. he is 89 years of age. He was with the 502 PIR F company of the 101st Airbourne and jumped in Operation Market Garden September 17th 1944. He was a private and was a demolition specialist.
My father has always wanted to return to Europe/Holland, but has never pursued it for health reasons (even though he is very active and spry for an 89 year old man)
The reason for my email is this. My brother Steve Casner, my father, and myself are flying into London on September 15th. On the 17th we plan to take a flight from London to Amsterdam, rent a car and drive towards Eindhoven, where my father has made hotel reservations. I'm wondering if there are any festivities or memorial celebrations that we could attend during this time. I will travel back home with my father on the 21st of September.
Sometime around the 19th or 20th of September of 1944 my father was injured in a blast that left him unconscious for a period of time. From what I've been able to discover most of his clothes were blown off and his dog tags were lost. He was reported Missing in action...then later reported Killed in action. I have a copy of his obituary in the local paper from December of 1944.
Obviously my father wasn't killed. We would love to know about anything that may be of interest for his first return there since 1944.
Thank you in advance for your time and assistance.
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