Memorial Day is an American holiday we observe every year on the last Monday of May. On this day we honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2021 was observed earlier this week, on Monday, May 31.
Memorial Day originated following the American Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day. It did not become an official federal holiday until 1971. Today, Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting military cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and attending patriotic concerts and parades.
With the recent observance of Memorial Day, it seemed like an appropriate time to explore the topic of American military service members buried on foreign soil.
In this and two future posts, I’ll explore the American Cemetery in Margraten grave adoption program, look into why some of our military dead are still buried overseas, and review which members of the Buslee and Brodie crews of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision are buried there and in which cemeteries.
WWII Genealogist Teresa (Terry) Hirsch recently asked for my assistance. Terry informed me that the adopter of Lt. James Joseph Brodie’s grave at the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten wanted to connect with a Brodie family member. (James Brodie, who was killed in the mid-air collision in which my father was involved, is buried in Plot J, Row 13, Grave 4 of the cemetery).
In her research to assist the adopter, Terry ran across one of my posts about James Brodie with a mention of his great-nephew, Larry Miller, and asked if I’d facilitate the connection. I was able to contact Larry and hand off Terry’s contact information. Larry agreed to be connected with the adopter, and by now, I imagine Brodie’s grave adopter has successfully connected with Brodie’s family.
Another happy ending for Terry. Another happy ending for me. We both feel satisfied with a job well done when we can assist in a request regarding a WWII service member.
One thing always seems to lead to another in the world of WWII research, so it got me thinking about all the service members buried overseas. The next-of-kin had the option to bring their deceased family member home at the government’s expense, so why would they leave them buried on foreign soil? Seems I had connected with exactly the right person to answer my question and Terry educated me on the subject.
I’ll get to an in-depth look at the overseas burials in my next post, but first let’s look at the grave adoption program itself. Terry tells me that, at the American Cemetery at Margraten in the Netherlands, “Not only has every grave been adopted since 1945 but there is now a waiting list of 1000 [folks wanting to be adopters]! The Adoption Foundation closed the list about a year ago as it will take years to get to all of them.”
The adopter of James Brodie’s grave was a new adopter and had only recently received Brodie’s name. Terry said, “each time I encounter a person or story, my faith in humanity is renewed,” and “hearing of this person finally getting a soldier to honor just does my heart good.” I can relate to Terry’s emotional connection to our WWII war dead and the current day adopters who honor them.
Terry also shared an online video the Adoption Foundation produced in 2018 that tells their story from a past, present and future perspective.
Watch on Vimeo here:
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Of course, the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten is not the only overseas military cemetery dedicated to the war dead. The website of the American Battle Monuments Commission lists many memorials and cemeteries both here and overseas. The site notes,
ABMC administers, operates and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 32 federal memorials, monuments and markers, which are located in 17 foreign countries, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the British Dependency of Gibraltar; four of the memorials are located within the United States. These cemeteries and memorials, most of which commemorate the service and sacrifice of Americans who served in World War I and World War II, are among the most beautiful and meticulously maintained shrines in the world.
Not all of the cemeteries have grave adoption programs, but several do. However, Terry notes, “The ones that do exist are not run by one common organization so they differ in signup, ‘responsibilities’, and support. What the common denominator is they all are with the intention of remembering the soldier buried so far from home.”
Some of the other cemeteries with grave adoption programs are, in France, Lorraine American Cemetery, Epinal American Cemetery, Normandy American Cemetery, and Brittany American Cemetery, and in Belgium, Ardennes American Cemetery, and Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.
According to Terry, the two things that make Margraten’s grave adoption unique are (1) how early it started, in February 1945, months before the war in Europe ended, and (2) the percentage of those buried and memorialized whose graves are currently adopted, at 100% adopted with 1000 adopters on the waiting list.
More about Teresa Hirsch
Terry’s dad served in WWII with the 11th Army Air Forces in Alaska. Terry describes him as “the guy who would draw the maps of how/what route to take for their flights. As they didn’t use formations like in Europe it must have been more basic routing.” She adds, “He went up there in the Summer of ’42 and out in Spring ’45.”
Terry has no connection with individual adopters. She helps organizations and individuals find requested information about American service members buried overseas.
Terry takes advantage of the databases and photos provided by the individual WWII bombardment groups on their websites, like those of the 384th and 100th. By the way, the 100th Bomb Group (aka the “Bloody Hundredth”) is the subject of the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg film currently in production based on the Donald Miller book, Masters of the Air.
The group websites are great for sources of photos requested by the cemeteries and adopters. For example, when the Cambridge cemetery staff commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Friendly Invasion in 2017, Terry helped find photos to place at gravesites.
Terry also finds a lot of help from information services of public libraries that were local to the service members’ homes during wartime.
In a March 2018 article, Library Finds Photo for Dutch Gravesite, written by Patricia Ann Speelman and published in the Sidney Daily News (of Sidney, Shelby County, Ohio), I learned that,
The adopters don’t refer to the fallen as soldiers, airmen, sailors or servicemen. The call them liberators. Those 10,000 men and women gave their lives to liberate the Netherlands and the rest of Europe from the Nazis. The Dutch have never taken that sacrifice for granted.
The Sidney Daily News article was triggered by Teresa’s search for Oscar C. Drees, one of three Shelby County soldiers buried at Margraten. The article tells of the successful find of Drees’ photo and gives a lot of insight into the history of and current day activities surrounding the Margraten grave adoptions such as the Faces of Margraten project.
A December 2020 article, Grave Markers of WWII Soldiers from City Now Complete in Netherlands, written by Lori Szepelak and published in The Westfield News (of Westfield, Massachusetts), tells of another successful find of the photograph of Staff Sgt. Arthur E. Wilson of Westfield thanks to Teresa Hirsch.
Note: Don’t ever forget how helpful librarians can be. At Florida’s info.askalibrarian.org, the motto is “We are librarians. And we know the answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask.” Thank you Florida Librarians and Librarians everywhere!
And about that title, WWII Genealogist. Terry adopted the title because of her genealogy-type work and the fact that she performs this work only for WWII service members. I think the title fits her perfectly and, in part, fits me pretty well, too. Don’t be surprised to find it added to my next business card – Researcher/Writer/WWII Genealogist. It has a nice ring to it.
Teresa Hirsch, I thank you for your service to our American service members who gave their lives for our freedom during WWII.
And to our grave adopters and others who watch over and care for our American liberators resting at Margraten and elsewhere, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021