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An outreach from the Netherlands
By Dolores E. Pike

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Dutch at Grave

"They ask me when I go to the Netherlands every year, to take pictures," said Roelof "Dutch" Oostveen, speaking about the graves in the American military cemetery in Margraten.  There are 8,000 Americans buried there and relatives of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in World War II continue to contact Dutch to learn more about these men. Some of the soldiers lived with the local people, including Dutch's family, after the Netherlands was liberated from the Nazis in September 1944. And the people who live there today continue, more than 60 years later, to care for and decorate the graves of soldiers who never returned home.
The American soldiers were billeted in the homes in the region of Margraten so they would not have to sleep in the fields and also, according to Dutch, because everybody wanted to show their heartfelt gratitude for being liberated.  The soldiers in turn shared their rations and food packages received from home with the host families.

Prior to the occupation by the Nazis, the Oosteveens enjoyed a modest but comfortable life in their home in Eygelshoven. In 1944 Elizabeth and Roelof (Sr.) Oosteveen had seven children ranging in age from four to 18.  Dutch was 12 at that time and he vividly recalls that final year of the war, when food was scarce and the family's daily diet consisted of potatoes and onions.

One of the many soldiers who stayed with the Oosteveens was a man by the name of Taylor who, before the war had been active in the Boy Scouts of America, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout.  Taylor corresponded with a fellow scout back home named Chanklin and asked him to send food packages whenever he could.  Taylor was subsequently killed during the remaining days of the fighting, but when Dutch wanted to immigrate to the United States in 1958, Mr. Chanklin became his sponsor.

At the outbreak of the war in 1939 the Netherlands declared a policy of neutrality, as it had done during World War I. Even so, on May 10, 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands. Their advance was slowed somewhat by the Dutch army, which according to the records was fighting with outdated weaponry and the Netherlands was forced to capitulate within a week. As food and goods were taken out of the Netherlands by the Nazis, ration cards were issued and used to control the resident population. Anyone who violated the laws set down by the German authorities, such as hiding from forced work duties, automatically lost his or her rations. And anyone found to be a part of the Dutch resistance received an immediate death sentence.
One of the riskiest activities was hiding and sheltering refugees or enemies of the Nazi regime.  This included Jewish families like the Anne Frank family, underground operatives, draft-age Dutch, etc.  Later in the war this system of hiding people was used to protect downed Allied airmen.

The end of the German occupation of the Netherlands occurred in stages, with the southern part, Zuid Limburg being liberated in September 1944 by the U.S. 30th Infantry Division when they pushed deeper into Germany as part of the U.S. First Army.

Following the liberation of the Netherlands the American military needed to set up a cemetery to bury the soldiers killed during the fighting.  With the acquisition of 65 acres of farmland in the region of Margraten the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial was established and is the only American cemetery in Holland. According to Dutch the local newspaper ran an article informing locals that they could adopt a grave and care for it.

The site is further described in a pamphlet by The American Battle Monuments Commission: "A battlefield cemetery, one of the first to be used for the interment of American soldiers who fell on German soil, was established here on 10 November 1944 by the U.S. Ninth Army."

Each time Dutch returns to the Netherlands he sets a day aside to go to the cemetery in Margraten.  Nearby is another American cemetery, just across the border in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium where the casualties of the Battle of the Bulge are buried.  Dutch will also visit that cemetery at the request of a soldier's family.

Over the years Dutch has amassed a mountain of paperwork, including the names of Americans and the corresponding homes in which they were housed in the region of Margraten.  He would like to donate this information, with its significant historical value, to a non-profit organization that would be interested in carrying on with the project that has meant so much to so many.

"Donald's Story...a tribute to a WWII pilot," an article that appeared In the May 17, 2006 edition of The Courier, told the story of author Sandra Merrill as she chronicled the journey of her uncle, Donald R. Emerson. Donald, a P-51 pilot during World War II is interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Ms. Merrill wrote regarding Dutch and the people of Margraten:

"I think it was about four, maybe five years ago when I still had a Berlin address, that I got my first call from Roelof Oostveen.  He said he'd been in touch with a Mr. deWilde in Holland regarding some other U.S. WWII casualties' next-of-kin and Mr. deWilde, whose family had 'adopted' my uncle Donald's (Emerson) grave in the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, noticed that Dutch and I had the same zip code. As soon as I could, I went to meet him and his wife Marie at their Ocean Pines home.

"The Oostveens return to The Netherlands every year to visit family, and since meeting me Dutch makes it a point of also visiting my uncle's grave (accompanied by Mr. deWilde) and each time he brings back photos. He's a very special man, an eager liaison for Americans needing help with anything regarding the Netherlands, especially those connected to the heroes of World War II.

"When my daughter and I visited my uncle's grave in 1990, we were deeply moved by the high degree of thankfulness the Dutch people still had for the Allied liberators and at that time it had already been 45 years since the war ended. We were told there was always a waiting list of those wishing to adopt (tend and decorate) the graves of the war dead, and that continues to this day. Roelof "Dutch" Oostveen exemplifies this grateful spirit of his native land in a most personal way for me and many other Americans and I'm honored to count him among my friends."

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Uploaded: 11/5/2008