Stories about Margraten
LECTURE OF PETER HENDRIKX DURING THE EUROPEAN TRIGGER TIME CONVENTION IN BASTOGNE, BELGIUM, SEPTEMBER 2007 ABOUT MARGRATEN CEMETERY.
The American Military Cemetery at Margraten, the Netherlands
September 12 1944. After a long, dreadful summer, American troops of the 30th Infantry Division crossed the border into the Netherlands for the first time. There was yet another first, as it marked the day the first American soldier of the ground forces was killed in action on Dutch soil.
The plan was to again a good jump off point to seal off the German escape route from Maastricht to Aachen. When Company A of the 117th Regiment approached the border, it took heavy fire from a German position south of the customs house. The company commander planned to attack these positions from three sides, with the light machine gun section under Lieutenant Maloney forming the right wing of the attack. A short but fierce battle took place, and after having crossed the border near marker 35 for only a few meters, Leonard Hoffman from Pennsylvania was mortally wounded. Being part of the first group of Americans to set foot on Dutch soil near the village of Mesch, he was the first American soldier killed on Dutch soil. Margraten, where two months later the first of many thousand Americans would be buried, was only 15 miles away.
Margraten, by the way, wasn’t the first choice as a location for the cemetery. The 611th Quartermaster Grave Registration Co. under the command of Captain Joseph J. Shomon originally planned a location near the Dutch town of Sittard. The town was still under German observation when Shomon and his men arrived with engineer equipment to start making preparations for the enormous task that lay ahead. But the Germans thought they were a combat unit, preparing an attack and opened fire. It was quickly decided to find another site for the cemetery, and that is how Margraten was selected.
On November 10 1944 the first American soldier, a soldier of the 7th Armored Division who fell in the battles in the Peel Marshes, was buried in Margraten. He was the first of eventually 17.738 American dead who were buried here between that date and March 30 1946, the day of the last burial. However, after it was decided that Margraten would be the only cemetery in the Netherlands, 416 burials from the American cemetery of Son, near Eindhoven, and 795 burials from the cemetery of Molenhoek, near Nijmegen, were disinterred and transferred to Margraten for reburial, bringing the total to 18.949. A few hundred field burials were also collected and brought to Margraten when they were discovered in the first few years after the war, bringing the total to about 19.300 burials. In 1946 Congress decided that the next of kin had the final say in the final resting place of their loved one, and 57% of the fallen soldiers were taken back home to the U.S. for reburial. 8301 Soldiers were left in Margraten. However, one more soldier, Utecht of the 82nd Airborne Division, was buried here in 1994 after his MIA status was changed when his remains were found near Nijmegen, bringing the total up to 8302. And, yet again, there are only 8301 gravestones, as two unknown soldiers share a common grave (Plot 0, Row 5, Grave 9). Of these 8302 burials, 106 are unknown, there are 40 instances of two brothers buried side by side and four women are buried here. On the Tablets of the Missing, or Walls of the Missing, the names of 1722 missing soldiers are commemorated, many of them members of the Army Air Force.
In earlier wars it was easy to divide the fighting into specific battles. Both sides maneuvered for position, then came together for a fight which had a specific beginning and an end. Combat in W.W.2, however, was a constant day to day effort, with one major clash slowly becoming another. So the Army decided to credit men and units not for specific battles but for campaigns. Each campaign covered a specific geographic area and a time frame. The graphic shows that the Rhineland Campaign, starting on September 15 1944 was by far the costliest campaign. It must be said it covers a long time frame, ending on March 21st 1945, and a large geographic area with many costly battles in adverse weather conditions. It started with operation Market Garden, followed by the costly fighting in the Hurtgen Forest, the Siegfried Line Campaign and the battles to clear the area west of the Ruhr, Moselle and Rhine rivers. It comes as no surprise that the largest percentage of burials in Margraten are men who were killed in the Rhineland Campaign. After the Rhineland Campaign, the Central Europe Campaign, from March 22 until May 11 1945, claimed many lives. This campaign includes Operation Varsity, the jump over the Rhine river by the 17th Airborne Division, and the subsequent race across Germany. Finally, many victims of the Air Offensive, which started on the 4th of July 1942 up until June 5 1944, are laid to rest in Margraten. After the air offensive that took place before the battles on the ground started, many more Army Air Force soldiers were killed in the various campaigns.
However, in the book that I am writing, the focus will be on the heroic stories of the men who are buried in Margraten, told in a framework of the big picture of the European Campaign. Today I would like to share a few random stories with you about these heroes who gave their last full measure of devotion.
Robert Van Klinken is a name that many of you here may remember from the book Band of Brothers. Around 1887 his grandfather emigrated from the Dutch province of Groningen to the US, and even though he is the third generation of hard working Dutch immigrants who eventually ended up in Washington State, he still spoke the dialect of the country his grandfather left more than 50 years earlier. He worked as an auto mechanic when he was drafted for the selective service less than three weeks before the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. And even though his physical examination report states his left eye was almost blind, he ended up in Co E, 506 PIR and won the highest scores in the company’s physical competition. He survived the Normandy campaign to jump again on Dutch soil, the land of his forebears. When his battalion liberated Eindhoven, a small group of Germans was hiding on the third floor of the tall Philips factory. One can understand the surprise of the Dutch civilians who heared an American paratrooper say with a Groninger accent, “Wacht mor eevns. Wie hoaln heur der wel oet”, meaning; “Hold on. We’ll go get them out”. This must have been Robert Van Klinken, as it is unlikely another paratrooper in the 2nd Battalion spoke the accent of Groningen. Two days later, September 20th, he would be killed when Co E was send east of Eindhoven to check out the German threat. Robert was killed by a machine gun bullit when he ran forward with a bazooka to stop the German tanks of the 107th brigade attacking Eindhoven from the east.
Bernard B. Tom became the posterboy of the American paratrooper that liberated Eindhoven. In almost every Dutch book, newspaper story or publication you’ll see his handsome smiling face being surrounded by many exuberant Dutch civilians. For many inhabitants of Eindhoven, he personified the strong willed yet friendly American GI that brought them freedom. Local photographer Van de Kerkhof snapped this picture on the Kloosterdreefstreet on September 18, right after the street fighting for the two 88mm guns in the northern outskirts ended in victory, and the Dutch left their hiding places to welcome the paratroopers. In a letter home, Bernard writes that he is impressed with the Dutch gratitude, and that the Dutch say the paratroopers were ‘angels send from heaven’. For unexplained reasons, Pfc. Tom and three other buddies, ended up in Mierlo the next day, way east of Eindhoven, as they signed their names and addresses as a memento for a local boy who translated for them, the second trace. They stayed in hiding at a farm, before they found their way back again. Pfc. Tom also left a trace in St. Oedenrode, because in 2004 a local farmer still had an old pre combat photograph of Tom in his possession. However, on October 9 1944, Bernard Tom would be killed with two other men, Ken Hull and Orel Lev, by mortar fire along the dike in Randwijk on the Island. He was first temporarily buried at the Molenhoek Cemetery near Nijmegen, before he was finally laid to rest in Margraten. More than forty years later, his dog tag would be found at the site of the former cemetery, the fourth trace on the trail that Pfc. Tom left behind during the fighting in Holland.
Ernie Pyle, the famous WW2 war correspondent, wrote that the British fight for their homes, the Germans fight for glory and the Americans fight for souvenirs. The desire for German war souvenirs would cost Sgt. Harry Clawson of Co. H, 506, his life.
‘Daring’ is how his son described Harry even before he joined the 101st. He built a treehouse in top of the highest cottonwood tree he could find. He slept in the treehouse and would swing out in the morning on a rope like Tarzan, as if he were testing his body reflexes. He loved height and would climb the armory flagpole and rock back and forth on it. Harry’s younger brother Bernard remembers he once took him and another friend on foot to Bonita Creek without food and water, but just his .22 rifle. They drank rainwater from the holes in the rocks, and an old prospector cooked the rabbit that Harry shot for dinner. That night Bernard and his friend sat scared and shivering, while Harry snored the night away. It was clear here was a paratrooper in the making. Daring was his way of life. He built his own canoe, and when the river was flooding, he took it out for the first test run. And when he worked for an oil company, he and his brother raced each other on the gravel roads…with gasoline trucks ! He was also daring when friends asked him and his girlfriend Melba to join them one Sunday afternoon to New Mexico, were they would get married. Well, by the time they returned home, both couples were married.
In Normandy, Sgt. Clawson would be awarded the Silver Star for his actions. But Harry was equally interested in collecting German medals, that he took from fallen German soldiers, and pinned inside his combat jacket. His friend Fred Bahlau warned him that if the Germans ever caught him with these medals, he would be dead. Unfortunately, Harry saw no danger. But on October 5 1944, while Harry was observing for the mortars on the second floor of a house near the railroad station in Opheusden, he was blinded by German fire and captured when his company fell back. When the Germans wanted to take care of his wounds, they discovered the German medals inside his jacket. He was taken outside and executed. He was buried in an unmarked grave, next to Morris Thomas and would be MIA up until 1971. His name, and Thomas’, is still on the Wall of Missing with a star added, meaning that his remains were found and identified.
Morris Thomas, the son of farmers, was the eight of nine children and the fifth to die young. He married his high school sweetheart and became the father of a daughter. She describes her dad as being physically tough, being a perfect fit for the paratroopers. He went overseas in October 1943 and jumped into Normandy. He would be awarded with the Bronze Star Medal for his actions. In Holland, Co. H, 506, suffered their worst ordeal in Opheusden on the Island, where the German artillery took many casualties. Thomas was also hit by shrapnel and was seriously wounded. Eventually they made a hastly retreat, and Thomas, with Clawson and others, were left behind. This was the last that was seen of Morris Thomas. He was MIA since his remains were never found. In 1971 his daughter finally got word that he was found, and his remains were buried in Westfield New York.
Lt. Wayne “Bull” Winans was another free spirit, the kind which seemed to fill the ranks of the 101st Airborne. He was a big jovial guy, and commanded the machine gun platoon of HQ Co, 1st Bn. 506th PIR. His platoon was home of the so called “Ha Ha Squad”, or the “Eight Ball Squad”, where all the mavericks of the 1st Battalion were placed, unofficially equipped with bazooka’s.
In the afternoon of September 20, Al Hassenzahl of Co. C requested the support of Winans’ machine guns when he encountered German infantry and tanks on both sides of the canal in Son. When Bull Winans showed up with one of his MG sections, he made a crack to Hassenzahl about having to save C. Company’s asses again. He placed his section on the reverse side of the dike while they had a few words at the base. Then Hassenzahl turned to his SCR radio and Bull grabbed his shoulder and said he would have a look over the dike. Hassenzahl yelled; “Keep your head down, there is a tank over there !” while he started up. The last thing Hassenzahl remembers was a big smile and another crack about him being a damned worry wart. At that instant the German tank opened fire with its machine gun, and slugs ripped the top of the dike. Bull had gone a few inches too high and was caught in the helmet. He tumbled down and was caught by Hassenzahl. His platoon medic was there and Hassenzahl yelled, “Smitty, do something”. But there was nothing he could do, Bull Winans was gone in seconds. Medic Pfc. Lloyd R. Smith would be killed in the fighting on the Island on October 6, and is buried in Margraten, while Winans was laid to rest in the US.
The other kind of officer that seems to abound in the 101st was the intelligent, alert and focused kind. Lt. George O. Retan was one of those. The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, he left Cornell University to volunteer for the army. When he asked where he was needed most, the recruiter said the paratroopers. Some things sound easier than they really are, but that is how George ended up in the 506th. He jumped into Normandy as a sergeant in Co. I, and was hit by shrapnel in his leg five minutes after landing. In spite of this wound he stayed with his men, even after he was allowed to return to the U.S. for further medical treatment. His actions impressed his superior officers, as he earned a battlefield commission to 2nd lieutenant. According to military customs, he was transferred to another company, so he jumped as an assistant platoonleader in the 2nd platoon in Co. A, 506th PIR into Holland. One of the replacements who joined Co. I after Normandy, still remembers how Retan took time and effort to answer all the many “stupid questions” about combat that they, the “know nothing replacements” asked. He wrote that there was no greater gulf than that which exists between combatants and non-combatants, but this did not affect Retan.
Retan’s company was given the mission to capture the Son bridge. After assembling about 65 men, Retan joined his company commander Captain Davis and moved south through the woods towards the bridge. When they approached the canal west of the bridge, one of three 88mm guns in Son opened fire on the paratroopers in the woods. Five were killed by tree bursts, Retan being one of them.
After the 506th established a bridgehead across the canal and the fog of battle lifted and Son was cleared of Germans, the Dutch came out of hiding to cheer their liberators and help wherever they could. Although the instructions the American paratroopers received prior to the operation were to be careful with civilian help, the Americans soon discovered the Dutch went out of their way to help them with reliable information, much better than the help they received in France. Signal Corps photographer Jones took this much publicized photograph of Pfc. Robert M. Watts, Leman Gunn and, kneeling, Cpl. Alfred Tucker, all members of the S-2 section of the 506, getting information from the Dutch. “Buddy” Watts, left, was the only one not to survive the war.
His friend Frank Palys remembers Watts as a very good soldier and, alas, typical of most paratroopers, quite carefree and a bit reckless. He was an excellent rifle shot and was used as a lead scout on patrols throughout Normandy and Holland. Palys remembers how he shot two Germans in Normandy with two single shots from the hip. Watts was wounded in Bastogne, but he recovered in time to join the 101st when they were moved to patrol the west bank of the Rhine river during the battle for the Ruhr. On April 13 1945, he was part of a patrol to cross the Rhine and scout a bridge to see if it was mined. While returning from that patrol, they were fired on by Co. E, 506. They took over positions from the 3rd Battalion, who forgot to notify them that a patrol was out across the river. Of the five men, only Al Tucker survived with a shattered elbow. He became an alcoholic as suffered terrible pains for the rest of his life. Watts’ body was never found as he fell in the Rhine hit by friendly fire. His name is on the Wall of Missing.
Harold Kraimer of Co. C, 501st, was the oldest of six children, and the only son. Raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, he had early sense of duty and hard work as his parents counted on him. For his work on the family farm, he could have been deferred from joining the army, but his sister remembers him telling his dad he was no better than anyone else, and that he wanted to join the army. He had the right spirit to join the paratroopers, and went overseas in January 1944. He jumped into Normandy and proudly wrote home afterwards that he shook hands with Eisenhower, probably when Ike pinned the Silver Star Medal on his chest during his visit of the 101st after they returned to England.
On September 17 1944, Harold jumped into Holland, but his family never heared from him again. They first received a telegram that he was MIA since that date, later to be followed with the dreaded telegram that he was KIA on October 4.
Captain William Burd was commander of HQ Co., 501st PIR. He attended the University of Detroit on a football scholarship. He was well built for this sport, and played semi pro for a short while. However, he decided to join the army, and went to Officer Candidate School in 1941. Upon graduation he joined the faculty and taught transportation and company administration. Like all paratroopers, he couldn’t sit behind a desk when war was declared, and twice his request for transfer to the paratroopers was denied. The third time he went directly to the Adjutant General in D.C., and finally he was accepted.
His first combat jump in Normandy ended with a sprained ankle, when he tried not to land on a cow. Collecting a few more men, he tried to get to an aid station, but was captured by the Germans. Burd wrote, tongue in cheek, that all the German he knew was “Hande hoch”, but that didn’t help him much. Later, he was liberated again by the Americans.
His last letter to his wife was on September 1st, writing he had trench mouth and ulcers. This did not keep him from jumping on September 17th, where he jumped with Kinnards 1st Battalion near the castle at Heeswijk Dinther. Because their pathfinders were shot down on their way over, Kinnard’s battalion was dropped on the wrong dropzone. In spite of this, they landed close together and assembled quickly. There were about a dozen jump injuries, and it was decided a small group would stay behind with these men and to collect all the bundles with supplies. The rest of the battalion would start with their mission of capturing two bridges across the canal near Veghel. Burd stayed behind at the castle, and in a skirmish with an overwhelming German force he was shot. A year later his helmet, with a bullithole in the back, was found, and ended up in the museum at Fort Campbell.
Burd had a son he saw for the last time when he was 10,5 months old. William Jr. graduated from Annapolis and served as a fighter pilot in the Vietnam war. He did not have to go to war as the only surviving son of a deceased veteran, but his father left him with a sense of duty of the highest order.
Russell Waller of Co. E, 501st, was the second of five children and the oldest boy who grew up in a strict protestant family in Yonkers. He hoped to go to West Point, “…an opportunity I coveted as much as life itself”, but studied English instead at Columbia University in New York as he had a talent for writing plays and poetry. He was drafted in November 1941 and applied for pilot training, but he blamed army red tape for missing his chance. He then volunteered for the paratroopers to be in an elite outfit. His brother remembers he liked to associate with his intellectual equals and was good natured. He didn’t have many friends in the airborne, but was intensely loyal to them, as he would prove in battle.
He wrote he volunteered for what must have been the pathfinders, “…the picked men of America’s top division- my division”, as the censor probably wouldn’t let him use that word. He was among the first five men of his division to land in France. His education shines through every line that “Bud” Waller wrote to his mother; “The horrors of war about which you have read are but factual understatements. The wickedness of men has never been demonstrated to me with such demonic force. Mutilated boys and young men, their grey bodies frozen in grotesque positions are in the course of a fight passed by quickly and with but a glance.” And further; “The ugliest sights are not nearly as revolting as the smell of old blood and rotting flesh”. One can only imagine how much his parents must have worried when they read his letters. But he also wrote his mother the faith in God that she gave him must have saved his life as he has “…had so many narrow escapes from death, been shot at and missed so often that I know only the grace of God is responsible for my safety”. His letters are quite different from the usual letters home by GI’s, that are usually to the extend of ‘don’t worry, I am fine and safe’. Back in England, he wrote another letter home, acknowledging his attitude towards his superiors. He didn’t think much of them, because perhaps he expected too much from them. They in turn find him too flippant, casual and at times insulting. After Normandy he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal by “the General”, probably division commander Taylor. He wrote he would tell about it later, but he never got to it.
He again jumped into Holland, and even though he was again trained to be a pathfinder, he probably wasn’t this time. In the night of 17 to 18 September, Co. E, 501, was defending the west approaches to Veghel against a German surprise attack. “Bud” Waller was providing security for the platoon radio operator, and found himself west of the railroad embankment, where heavy and confused fighting took place that night. Since the Germans outnumbered the Geronimo’s of the 501st, Waller was concerned for his friend Walter “Geezel” Olander, and decided to go look for him. The next morning, ‘Bud” Waller and “Geezel” Olander, two troopers who only had their disregard for authority in common, were found dead together. While Olander’s remains stayed in Margraten, Waller’s parents decided to have him laid to rest in New York.
Of the 853 members of the 101st Airborne Division who were KIA, less than half were killed in the area known by the Americans as “The Island”, where they slugged in the mud as regular infantry since early October. The Island is the triangular area between Nijmegen, Arnhem and Opheusden, situated between the Rhine and Waal rivers. The northern bank of the Rhine river, west of Arnhem, is about 200 feet high, which allowed the Germans to observe each and every movement on the whole Island.
Pvt. Dellapenta of HQ Co.,3/501st was one of the many Screaming Eagles who fell victim to the sudden death of German artillery. He volunteered for the army in December 1942 when he was still a sophomore at Cornell University, and choose to join the paratroopers. But because he fractured his leg two days before D-Day, he didn’t jump in Normandy. So Holland became his first combat jump. Up on the Island, his battalion was pulled back from the line after about a month for two days of rest and a shower. He wrote home he bargained with a Dutch kid to have his uniform washed for three packs of cigarettes. On the typewriter he borrowed from the company clerk, he also wrote how much he admired Father Sampson. It bothered Bill Dellapenta that they all attended mass with their guns and knifes still strapped on.
His new battalion executive officer called all the battalion non-coms together for a meeting on the second floor of a school building on the south side of the Island. The Germans must have spotted this gathering, as all of a sudden they fired an 88 mm shell that decapitated William Dellapenta.
Exactly the same fate befell Sgt. Albert Englehart of Co. A, 326th Engineers. His 3rd Platoon commander, Lt. Hammond, called all his non-coms together for an orientation meeting on September 25. Hammond sat in his foxhole, while everyone else sat on the edge in a circle around him. They were apparently observed by the Germans as they opened fire. The shell decapitated Englehart without doing any other damage. His body fell into the lieutenant’s foxhole and drenched him with blood. This severely affected Hammond’s performance, and his successor, Lt. Doyle Roberts, wrote that he had become more apprehensive as time progressed. Earlier he would have visited all the squad positions himself, rather than expose all of them and have them come to him.
Although the army went out of their way to be accurate in every aspect of identification and burial of their soldier dead, I discovered a mix up with the identification of the unit. Captain Robert Woodhull is buried as a member of the 460th FAB of the 101st Airborne Division. The 460th was an independent battalion assigned to the 517thPIR, which at the time of his death was assigned to the 17th Airborne Division.
“Woody”, a graduate of Princeton University, started combat with the 460th in Italy. Next, Woodhull was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 517th as a forward artillery observer, and became virtually part of the 517th as he spend all his time with them, starting with the jump in southern France on August 15. In fact, Woody coveted the combat infantry badges the paratroopers wore, as everybody felt he deserved one as well. To make his point, Howard Hensleigh of the 517th remembers that on a patrol in southern France, they partially surrounded a platoon of Germans. When they were called to surrender, they stood up with their hands up, but their non com would fire to thwart the surrender. Woody crawled forward with Hensleigh to within a few feet of the gun position where they silenced him. Heisleigh put a clip from his M1 into the bush where he thought he fired from and luckily he guessed right, as they wouldn’t get a second chance. Eventually they captured the platoon with all their weapons and equipment.
Woodhull would call in artillery when their patrol in enemy territory ran into Germans. And very often, after a successful combat patrol, Woody would call in the artillery to finish the job and keep the Germans from following them.
In early February the 517th PIR found themselves on the frontline in the Hurtgen Forest for a diversionary attack, where the previous months costly battles were fought. Here the 460th fire direction center coordinated their heaviest concentration of artillery fire in the war; 14 division and corps artillery battalions’ fire was directed and Capt. Woodhull was in the front and middle of it. Woodhull was killed by a burst of machine gun fire when he was way up front to direct artillery fire to the well entrenched German defenders. Even though his gravestone erroneously says he served in the 101st, he was more than brave enough to have pass the test.
Some men ended up on the frontline while for some reason or another they shouldn’t have been there. Al “Butch” Brodbeck was drafted by an administrational error and, again, mistakenly shipped to Europe. He received his sixth deferment because his job was important to the war effort. He and his wife Mildred enjoyed their two year old son, and were planning to built their own house in Louisville, KY, when he was drafted in July 1944. The man responsible for the extension of his deferment forgot to send in the forms. So Al Brodbeck left home and went through basic training. It was decided he would be send to Officers Candidate School after his leave to go home. Al spend ten wonderful days at home, and was in high spirits when he took the train to OCS in New Jersey. But someone on the train showed signs of mumps, so the entire coach was quarantined and pulled on a side track. This again would prove to be disastrous for Al, because the coach was hooked up to a train with replacements for the European front. In spite of their protests, they were put aboard the Queen Mary and send to Europe. Apparently the army had forgotten about the men on board the train.
In the meantime his wife Mildred and her family had to face the humiliation of M.P.’s standing guard on their doorstep, as the army suspected Al of being AWOL and going back to his family. The fact that she saw German POW’s working in the local park unguarded made her ordeal even more poignant.
Going through the repple depple’s, he ended up an armoured infantryman in the 6th Armored Division. He joined them as a replacement in Nancy, and would fight with them all the way to Groitsch in Germany. Here he was killed on Friday the 13th of April 1945 by the SS Hitlerjugend.
While some accepted their fate as it came along, others went out of their way to join the army as it offered them a home they never had. Orphan Jack Cook was fourteen years of age when he talked his adoptive parents into letting him join the army in 1943. He was tall, strong and well built, so none of his buddies had any idea of his real age. As he still didn’t shave, some did suspect he was too young and kidded him about it. Jack just grinned in reply. He joined Co. F, 513th PIR of the 17thAirborne Division from the day it was formed, and fought with them in the Ardennes, where he was evacuated with frozen feet. His entry into his next battle was hair raising, as the C-46 he was to jump from in Operation Varsity, the jump across the Rhine, was hit twice by flak, and had to make a belly landing. On March 30, his platoon approached a bunker with a white flag flying on top of it. Platoonleader Sam Calhoun recalls: “Jack started out in the flat plowed field toward the bunker. When he was about 50 yards out in the field the German troops in the bunker began firing at him. He was wounded immediately. We got Jack out of the field and evacuated by ambulance to the American hospital nearest in the area”.
In the meantime, his stepmother’s conscience bothered her to the extent she couldn’t sleep anymore. She broke her promise to Jack not to inform the army that he was underage. His company commander received notice to take him off the line because of his age at about the same time he succumbed of his wounds on April 6. Young Jack Cook was awarded posthumously with the Silver Star Medal for leading this attack on the bunker, and is the youngest soldier buried in Margraten.
Four women are buried at Margraten of whom two were civilians. Anita McKenny came overseas to work for the War Shipping Administration. She also sang for the men, probably in a U.S.O. show, and she might have met her husband here. She died in a car accident on November 26 1945, but he couldn’t attend her funeral because he was also severely wounded. He decided, as next of kin, to have her buried in Margraten.
Lt. Wilma Vinsant was the only child. Her father was a medical doctor and her mother a nurse, so it was only logical she joined the flightnurses. “Dolly”, as she was nicknamed because she was only 62 inches tall, was stationed in England with the 806th Air Evac. Squadron since 1943. From here they picked up wounded soldiers and transported them from Germany to Belgium and England. In the fall of 1944, she married Maj. Walter Shea
On April 14 1945 Dolly had a day off, but because another nurse was invited to a party, Dolly told her she would take her place so she could go. This is how cruel fate can be, as the C-47 crashed in very bad weather in Germany, killing the crew, the patients and five more flightnurses.
These are just a random sampling of the many touching stories about the heroes who are laid to rest here. I’ve discovered that each and every man buried here, or mentioned on the Wall of Missing, is a wonderful person with a story that deserves to be told. First and foremost to keep their memory alive, but also for us to learn that freedom doesn’t come the easy way. I think of the four Medal of Honor winners who are buried here, including our own Lt. Col. Robert Cole, who hinted in his last letter to his wife he might be home soon. Did it mean he knew he was going to be awarded the county’s highest decoration ? I also think of the only general buried here, Maj Gen. Maurice Rose of the 3rd Armored Division, who not only drifted away from his jewish roots, but also from his first wife and young son. He was killed where he was to be found most of the time; up front. I also think of a small band of brothers known as “The Three Musketeers”. It is saddening to read how Carson Smith lost his buddies “Dub” Murray in Normandy and “Tip” Tippett in Germany and how he coped with it. But there is also surprise to read how a buddy remembers that bad soldiering costs Harry Zmudzinski his life. Or that a so called “Dear John” letter made a soldier loose all interest in life and was consequently killed.
If the book that I hope to finish in the future helps to keep the memory of these men alive, men who are unable to tell their own story, then I consider my mission accomplished. Thank you for your attention.