Michael's Dispatches

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DAY ONE

Before the description of this incredible remembrance begins, it must be noted this was all paid for by the Market Garden Committee (MGC).  The hotel, buses, many of the meals, was all paid and arranged for by the Dutch.  Alex Omhof was the ringleader for the MGC and it can now be said with certainty that Mr. Omhof is a master coordinator.  Over the next nearly week, I was the only man who got lost from the group.  We seemed to drive all over Holland and didn’t lose a single veteran or soul, other than me.

Next morning we—the veterans and university students who were traveling with them—loaded into a bus and drove to Margraten Cemetery, the only U.S. military resting place in the Netherlands.  Margraten was immaculate and huge and the Dutch people were treating our veterans extremely well, and some were saying “Thank you for liberating us.”  (Over the next days, this must have been repeated thousands of times.)

Veterans arrived who were not with our group, including this gentleman whose accent was difficult to discern.  His accent didn’t sound American but his cap and words were 100% “Made in USA.”  He talked with other veterans about landing on D-Day.  When he finished, I asked, “Are you American?” and again he laughed, “Of course, son, look at dis hat!” and he tapped his hat.  “But your accent doesn’t sound American.”  He was from Georgia but after the war had married a Belgian girl.  He wanted to take her home to Georgia but she wanted to stay in Belgium.  He’s been married ever since.  In Belgium.  We must have talked for twenty minutes.  His story was so interesting that I didn’t even ask his name.

The caretaker of Margraten welcomed the veterans and gave a little speech and told some history.  He seemed proud of his important responsibility.

We walked out to the graves where 8,301 Americans are at rest.  Several Dutch would say that every single grave has been adopted by a Dutch family and they put flowers on the headstones at special times.

Robert G. Cole earned the Medal of Honor.

Homage.

An American who parachuted into combat at sixteen years of age.  He recounts the day that he and his sixteen-year-old buddy were crawling in a low space and a couple German soldiers threw in a grenade and blew off his buddy’s face, killing him.  But the Germans didn’t see this soldier, so he shot them and then killed two more.  Stress washed over his face as he recounted that day.

Maggie recounts how his buddy 1 LT Harry Busby had a premonition before crossing the Waal River, that he would be killed.  So Harry stripped off watch and other valuables and handed those to his buddies.  To try to understand why the Dutch so revere these men, and what Maggie was talking about when he, Harry and the others crossed the Waal River, it would be good to watch this trailer from A Bridge Too Far.

This clip depicts the Waal River Crossing.

After paying respects at Margraten we loaded on the bus to a village called Eerde.  The corn in Helmand, Afghanistan is taller now.  Firefights will be occurring today in cornfields in Afghanistan.

In Eerde were many dozens of World War II re-enactors who take their roles seriously, trying to accurately maintain or reproduce everything from the tiniest part of bootlaces to rifles, cannons and airplanes.  They were a sight.  They were living out there for some days, complete with World War II tents of all sizes, sleeping bags, jeeps and the works.

A re-enactor loads a rifle with blanks.  Usually blanks are not loud, but these were ear-splitting like the real McCoy.

Looks can fool: The most dangerous animal on the planet is a young infantryman.

Many or all of the re-enactors here seemed to be Dutch.  They brought an eerie realism, maybe because just yesterday I came in from Afghanistan.  This was like a big movie.  Two movies.  Afghanistan and now a World War II set.  It felt strangely like home.  I remember one mission in Iraq, when we were moving into ambush and soon would successfully kill some insurgents, when it felt so incredibly eerie, as if I had done this thousands of times over thousands of years.  With the birds and frogs and insects filling the night with sounds, and the firefights in the distance all around, and us moving in for the kill, it was like an eternal groundhog day, and then we killed them and went home.  The soldiers did the killing and I just watched and said good job and later went to bed as if we had only gone to the movies.

In addition to the World War II veterans and re-enactors, there were dozens of U.S. active duty soldiers from the 101st and 82nd.

Many of the re-enactors seemed better versed in the history than the veterans.  This would not be surprising; combat troops are so focused that they rarely have any idea of what’s happening outside of their gun sights.  After war, many of them spend decades trying to forget about it.  It’s not hard to find people who’ve done a couple hard tours in Iraq who don’t really know much about the bigger picture and don’t care to think about it for now.

Re-enactors.

All the gear is privately owned.

The re-enactors seemed to be having a ball.

Medic!

The local band.

When a U.S. soldier wears a patch on the right shoulder, it means a combat tour was done with that unit.  The 101st liberated Eerde and so the people put on a parade and there must have been a thousand thank yous.

During the speeches and ceremonies, Dutch kids read poems to the veterans, the band played music and people recounted the Nazi times.  One person said that the Nazis threatened to hang one man, one woman and one child if the train tracks were again sabotaged.  The story ended there.  The Dutch, who have been fighting well in Afghanistan, had adopted a stance of neutrality and pacifism in face of the Nazis and were gulped down.  Some people resisted while others collaborated.  The Dutch say that even today the scars caused by collaborators have not completely healed.  Imagine going through life knowing you had collaborated.  Better to be dead.

American paratroopers landed near the village.  During the ensuing battles, Americans, British and others, with help from the Dutch underground, routed the Nazis from Holland.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    osaer charles · 12 years ago
    Great 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.
    Matthew Gonzalez · 12 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.
    Peter Montbriand · 12 years ago
    Thank 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.
    Soljerblue · 12 years ago
    Mike -- 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.
    Christopher · 12 years ago
    Bravo ... 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.
    Frank Drewry · 12 years ago
    Nice!!!!! 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.
    Roel Manders · 12 years ago
    Dear 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.

    Kind regards,
    Roel Manders
    The Netherlands
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 12 years ago
    Dear 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.
    Matt Baker · 12 years ago
    Michael

    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.
    Felix Drost · 12 years ago
    I 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.
    Bryon · 12 years ago
    I 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.
    Ad Moest · 12 years ago
    A 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.
    P. J. Hartwick · 12 years ago
    Thak 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.

    Many thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevin Casner · 7 years ago
    Hello,

    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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