Miss. soldiers honored in Netherlands

Published 12:07 am Tuesday, May 27, 2008

TUPELO (AP) — Dennis Notenboom is among the Dutch citizens who visit the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial at Margraten, Netherlands to pay respect to the thousands of American servicemen who died while liberating Holland during World War II.

‘‘It’s because of the oppression of the Germans,’’ he explained while visiting with friends in Tupelo. ‘‘We suffered terribly under the Germans’ persecution. We honor the Allied forces for liberating our country from our oppressors.’’

Notenboom was in Tupelo earlier this month to visit with friends Robert and Adrian Caldwell and T.C. and Ann Gibbs — two couples with ties to Notenboom’s region for whom he coordinated a trip last year. T.C. Gibbs’ B-24 bomber was shot down over Schouwen Island, and he spent the rest of the war as a German prisoner of war. Adrian Caldwell’s father, Leroy Liest, went missing in action when his B-17 was shot down just offshore.

Email newsletter signup

Netherlands’ residents decorate the graves of their liberators with American and Dutch flags and flowers on their own Remembrance Day and Liberation Day as well as America’s own Memorial Day, as well as other holidays.

Remembrance doesn’t stop there, though. Families across The Netherlands have gone through a committee review to be allowed to adopt specific graves at Margraten, the last of which were adopted this month.

‘‘It started in 1946, and then it was local people, but now it’s all over the Netherlands,’’ Notenboom said.

‘‘When one (adopter) passes away, it will be passed on to brother, sister, son or daughter. It’s a family tradition.’’

Once the committee approves an application, he said, the individual or family begins researching the life of the serviceman whose grave they have adopted.

‘‘You want to find out what they looked like, what they were doing before the war,’’ he said. ‘‘You collect their stories.”

and there’s a database where all these are kept. The soldiers’ personal life stories are written down so they won’t be forgotten.’’

Some adopting families have come to know the families of their adoptees.

‘‘The bond is closer when you know more,’’ Caldwell said.

Because his plane was never found, her dad has no grave, but his name is engraved on the marble wall at Margraten. Notenboom has two adopted graves there, and since getting to know the Caldwells he always pays his respects.

‘‘He’s sweet to do this to my dad’s name,’’ Caldwell said. ‘‘When he drives to Margraten, he goes by and says hello.’’

Beyond that, Notenboom – a process engineer, husband, father of two preschoolers and Dutch National Guardsman – will also coordinate one last underwater search for Liest’s plane this summer.

‘‘He has volunteer divers and the boat (ready) when he goes back,’’ Caldwell said