Fresh from the breakthrough at Normandy, General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied forces dreamed of a move that would end the war by Christmas of 1944. The result was Operation Market Garden, where allied air and ground forces consisting of American, British, Canadian, Polish and Dutch soldiers would liberate Holland by seizing key bridges in Holland, and then rapidly sweep north into the lowlands of Germany while avoiding the German defense line. So on the morning of September 17, 1944 thousands of paratroopers descended by parachute or glider into Holland, up to 150 kilometers behind enemy lines.
Unfortunately the Nazis were waiting, and after ten days of fierce fighting the Allied forces had to retreat, leaving over 17,000 of their soldiers behind—having paid the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Heroes you should know among the living and the dead? No doubt.
But this is about those left to pick up the pieces—specifically at Margraten. This is where the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is located, and where gratitude is practiced in a most unique way.
Established in 1960, it is Europe’s third largest war cemetery for unidentified soldiers. Rows and rows of white crosses and stars of David mark the 8,301 graves there. All but 500 of these graves are non-Dutch—men who died on foreign soil, far from their homes and their loved ones. But you wouldn’t know it.
Because each one of these graves has been adopted by a family. These families regularly tend to their adopted soldier’s grave, attend annual services in honor of their soldier, and many even hang a portrait of their soldier in their homes to honor his memory.
You would be hard pressed to find American soldiers buried on American soil honored so beautifully.
By military standards, Operation Market Garden was a failure, but this remarkable community in this little Dutch town continues to disagree. Because courage, and sacrifice, and love never fail. And each one of these generous souls testifies to this truth. The families of Margraten remember, and they are grateful.
But they haven’t just felt gratitude, they’ve lived it—and keep living it. And in a tired world so suffocatingly full of entitlement this is remarkable.
They are heroes you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.