Compass tour stop: Military cemetery
By Tony Staley
Editor's note: Fifth in a series on "The Compass" pilgrimage retired Green Bay Bishop Robert Banks will lead May 10-21, 2009, to important religious sites in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. (More information on pilgrimage)
After visiting the Church of Our Lady, the pilgrims will tour the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial. The cemetery is in the village of Margraten, six miles east of Maastricht, in the southernmost part of the country. It is the Netherlands only American military cemetery and honors more than 8,000 American military who died during the war.
The cemetery sits on gentle, rolling farmland, just south of the Cologne-Boulogne highway, which the Romans built and Caesar used during his campaign there. Charlemagne, Charles V, Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm II also used the highway, as did Hitler's legions in May 1940 when they captured the Low Countries. More than four years later, German troops again used the highway during their retreat.
The first visible part of the 65.5 acre cemetery is the 101-foot memorial bell tower. The altar candelabra and flower bowl in the chapel were donated by the Netherlands' government. An observation platform on the tower's north side provides a panoramic view of the cemetery and surrounding countryside.
At the base of the tower is the Court of Honor, whose reflecting pool includes a statue of a mother mourning the loss of her son. The Visitor Building and map room, containing three large, engraved operations maps with texts depicting American armed forces' operations, are next to the Court of Honor.
Next to it are the Tablets of the Missing, which list the names of 1,722 members of the armed forces. Rosettes indicate those whose remains have been recovered and identified since the names were originally engraved in the stone.
The burial area is divided into 16 plots, containing the remains of 8,301 military dead. Headstones are set in long curves. A wide, tree-lined mall leads to a flag pole atop a small hill on the far side of the cemetery, opposite the tower.
There are six Medal of Honor recipients, four women and 40 sets of brothers, including twins, buried at the cemetery. They died in battles from the D-Day landings in Normandy (June 6, 1944) through VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day) on May 8, 1945.
Of the 61 U.S. divisions that fought in Europe, 48 are represented at the cemetery, including three Airborne, nine Armor and 36 Infantry (the largest number are from the 29th, 84th and 102nd Infantry Divisions).
The American Battle Monuments Commission, an agency of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government, administers, operates and maintains the cemetery.
All the graves at the cemetery have been adopted by people from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, who visit the graves frequently, place flowers on special days and stand-in for American families who cannot come to the cemetery. The roots of this tradition go back to soon after the Battle of the Bulge and the efforts of a couple Margraten townspeople.
On May 28, 2005 - Memorial Day - President George W. Bush became the first American president to visit the cemetery.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org, www.abmc.gov/, www.fallennotforgotten.nl and www.recreation.gov.
(Staley is a retired editor of "The Compass.")