Thursday, June 2, 2011

American Cemetery at Margraten

On Sunday, May 29th, we drove to the southern tip of Holland to the American Cemetery near Maastricht.  It is located about 6 miles east at Margraten.  Over 8300 U.S. soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge are buried here.  As we looked out over the landscape we saw rolling hills and natural groves of trees - neither of which are common in The Netherlands.

Crops are already quite far along in their growth cycle.  Spring came early this year.  

Road markers directed visitors to the cemetery site.

The entrance was lined with flags from many European countries as well as the United States.

This extremely tall monument was at the entrance to the cemetery.  It's message was very thought provoking - which helped visitors to immediately grasp the significance of the site.

 This granite wall shows all 8,300+ names of the soldiers who gave their lives here.  The home state of each soldier was also listed.  Many additional soldiers died and are buried in other cemeteries in Europe.  A few families were even lucky enough to get their loved one returned to the U.S.  This location, however, is the only completely American cemetery in Europe.

I loved this quote - several others like it were also at different locations on the grounds.

As you walk past the monument area there is a huge field of white crosses where the soldiers are buried.

Each cross represents a life given in defending Western Europe against Hitler's invading army.  The countries of The Netherlands, Luxemborg, Belgium, and France are especially effusive in their praise of the Allied Forces who came to their aid during the huge offensive of the German Army in the winter of 1944-45. 

The American Ambassador to The Netherlands gave a speech honoring those who gave their lives for freedom.  Dignitaries from all over Europe and American were in attendance.

I caught the Bushes as they were walking through the grave-markers.  They are the newest senior couple serving in The Netherlands mission.  They arrived the end of April from their home in Ogden, Utah.

These beautiful wreaths await placement by selected military and political dignitaries who are in attendance.

I was amazed at the size of the crowd.  I expected maybe 50-100 people.  There were easily over 1,000 in attendance.  From reports of other couples who have attended in the past - this is typical of the support people give this yearly event.

There were two military bands, a men's choir, and solo singers who provided music for the ceremony.  The color guard had one soldier who fell over in the middle of the ceremony.  Apparently he had been standing too long or too stiffly.  (Gotta unlock those knees, soldier.)

All of the crosses marking the graves had two flags in front - one from America and one from The Netherlands.  Children from the surrounding towns put flowers on the graves.

It took two soldiers to carry the large wreaths to their stands.  Our mission president, President Brubaker, was invited to place a wreath during the ceremony in behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in southern Holland.  After a week of rainy, grey days it was a welcome change.

Elder Beckstrand reads some of the names of soldiers who are buried here. 

Of course we were especially interested to find names of soldiers who were from Utah.  Elder Beckstrand knows some Hillyards from Cache Valley.  Perhaps this man was a relative.

During the closing prayer there was a fly-over of three jets who just cleared the top of the monument.  The priest giving the prayer paused long enough for the planes to clear the area - the noise was deafening but brought an impressive close to the day's event.

Following the ceremony we drove over to Valkenburg and viewed some of the old Roman remains that are still visible in this small city. 

There are several old castles with moats surrounding them.  The tourists were out in droves, so we didn't stop.  Parking was non-existent, and we had quite a drive ahead of us in order to return to Amsterdam that evening.  It was a long, but very interesting, thought-provoking day. 


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