Dutch families by the thousands have tended the graves of American servicemen who were killed in World War II. For them, it is a gesture of gratitude for soldiers they’ve never met. Now, thanks to the “Faces of Margraten” project, those families can now see the faces of those soldiers.
Last year, volunteers placed the photos of more than 3,300 soldiers buried or listed on ‘Tablets of the Missing’ at Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten during a four-day tribute. The project was sponsored by the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves and continues to grow. About 4,000 photos will be on display at this year’s tribute from May 1-5.
The cemetery includes 8,301 graves and 1,722 names of soldiers who are missing in action.
“When we talk about war, we often talk about abstract numbers,” said Sebastiaan Vonk, the chairman of the foundation. “What we are trying to do here is to show that these were all individuals who fought in a war and died in a war, and there’s no better way than putting those photos out and showing that they were an individual like you or me.”
“Often we have relatives in the photos – the wife, the children, parents, brothers,” Vonk said. “So we really see the people that are buried here in the cemetery are just ordinary people who lived in extraordinary times.”
Teresa Hirsch learned about the project through social media in the U.S. The retiree from Indianapolis volunteered to help with research.
“It can be long and tedious, but rewarding, knowing you’re providing a face to the person who has adopted the grave,” she said, referring to the Dutch who tend the graves.
At last year’s inaugural tribute, Hirsch learned how powerful the photos could be. She met a Dutch man who had been caring for a grave for years.
“He was really emotional,” Hirsch said. The man had never seen the face of the soldier whose grave he had been tending the grave for 15 years. “And now, here was this picture that somebody, somewhere, somehow found and sent to the project.”
“Thinking about that just keeps me going and doing this,” Hirsch said.
Vonk says that the group is accepting photos of soldiers buried in the cemetery through April 18. Anyone can submit a photo at the project’s website: thefacesofmargraten.com. To search the names of those interred there, check out the American Battle Monuments Commission, abmc.gov/database-search.
“It’s important to us that we are able to reach the families of these soldiers because they are the ones who have the information and photos tucked away at home.”
Over sixty years after the end of the war, the men who made the ultimate sacrifice are still being remembered and honored.
More Information on the Faces of Margraten Facebook Page