A ‘Much Diminished’ Cry
“The cries of the wounded had much diminished now, and as we staggered down the road, the reason was only too apparent, for the water was right over the tops of the shell-holes.” — Captain Edwin Vaughan, 1917.
Captain Edwin Vaughan was a British Army officer with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in World War I, and his diary became a famous book, “Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of a British Officer, 1917.” He was awarded the military cross for his service, and went on to write what is now considered one of the most gripping retellings of a soldier’s experience in World War I.
Vaughan’s recollection in the above passage is just one brief look into a war that would divide the world. While it seems as if the world wars are “much diminished,” the cries of those who gave their life still ring loudly throughout history for us to hear.
That much is true in Margraten, The Netherlands, at the American Military Cemetery. Though commemorating fallen soldiers who gave their lives in protection of The Netherlands in World War II, Vaughan’s quote still rings true – the cries of the wounded may be diminished now, but their memories live on, even in the waning hours of Memorial Day.
The Hollands in Holland
In May of last year, this newspaper dedicated a feature to Margraten, the American Military Cemetery in The Netherlands. To review, Margraten is 10 kilometers east of Maastricht, in the Netherlands, with a neighboring population of around 14,000 people who oversee the cemetery in honor of the American sacrifices in World War II.
Dedicated in 1960, the cemetery covers 65.5 acres of land, with approximately 8,301 burial sites of American troops who defended the Netherlands during Hitler’s advancement. Of those 8,301 burials, 1,722 of them are declared as men who were missing in action (MIA) during the war. Many of those same graves are unmarked to this day.
Recently, Rod Holland and his wife, Lora, visited the cemetery on their trip to Holland. Rod, born and raised in Buffalo, is a U.S. Army veteran, having served approximately 30 years, from 1973-1980 in active duty, and then 1980 to 2010 in the Army Reserves.
Rod’s service took him many places around the world, though he visited Holland five or six times specifically. One of the more peaceful places to serve, Rod remembers quite clearly his service in countries where active combat was day-to-day, and he is quite thankful that not all of his service occurred in places where he was constantly “shot at.”
“My wife, Lora, hadn’t been to Holland before, so we decided to take a trip there together to see the spring tulips,” Rod shared. “It is truly beautiful.”
Several stops on the agenda during their 10-day stay in Holland was visiting Keukenhof, Netherlands, to view gorgeous tulips that bloom each spring on the 40-acre display, which is home to more than 800 different flowers. Highlights of the trip also included visiting battlefields of the World Wars, such as Verdun, which is where Rod’s grandfather, Carl Gunnerson, was a doughboy.
Margraten was on that itinerary, too. Arriving just in time for the area’s yearly tribute to the memory of American lives, Rod and Lora witnessed the local Dutch families tending the graves of “adopted soldiers,” which they care for throughout the year. This has been a long-standing tradition in Margraten, beginning at the cemetery’s establishment.
“It’s a similar feeling going to Fort Snelling,” Rod wrote in his travel log, “though at a much bigger scale.”
At Margraten, there are still well over 3,800 graves left to identify. Rod actually became involved with the process of identifying Minnesota soldiers at Margraten not that long ago, when he worked with Tony Glavin at Medtronic, who visited Margraten last year. Together, with a Netherlands contact, they were able to identify approximately 80 of the 100 known graves belonging to Minnesota soldiers. Holland felt specifically called into the work, since his grandfather was a WWI veteran. Not only that, Rod’s mother administered aid to WWII paraplegic and quadriplegic veterans who fought in European battles.
“It is very moving to see the Dutch community coming together to honor American soldiers,” Rod said. “It’s a reverent time, for sure. Me doing my part in helping collect names seems small, though I know in my heart it is important work.”
Verdun and Bastogne
Americans became involved in World War I in 1917, though many of us are not familiar with the events of the war before our nation’s involvement, which is a fact that Rod highlighted in his travel log while penning remarks about the battle at Verdun.
It happened that 1916 was the wettest year on record for the area, and it is estimated that around 80,000 soldiers lie buried in the soil of Verdun. Though Americans were not involved in that battle, the field of warfare is still riddled with the lingering effects of fighting – artillery shell impacts are clearly visible, and the trenches are very clearly marked. The area, deep in the forest, had once been stripped of its trees and plants, though now so many years later, it has regrown beautifully.
“So try to imagine yourself sitting in a cold, wet, muddy hole in the ground with the worst thunderstorm in history illuminating the sky around you; shaking the ground around you. Then repeat that, day after day, for 300 days, and you might be close to veterans that survived Verdun,” reads Rod’s log.
He continued to write that though Americans did not fight in the battle of Verdun, the experience is still harrowing, because our nation would later participate in conditions not that much different.
Bastogne, however, rings a clearer bell in the minds of Americans. The Battle of the Bulge was held in Bastogne, on Christmas of 1944. It was snowing that day, which is depicted in journal entries recovered from the war; a wet and heavy white which coated the battlefield in a blanket of cold. It was in such conditions that many of our men sat in small fox holes, shivering in hopes of staying alive. With a battlefield of potentially live grenades and artillery shells, it is not difficult to imagine some of the pain and trauma that followed our soldiers out of that battle.
“Even still today,” surmises Rod’s travel diary, “there is a danger in that battlefield. There are many crosses which document where civilians have been killed trying to retrieve pieces of what was left behind.”
The impression of history
Rod is an avid audio-book enthusiast, and he’s spent countless hours listening to readings regarding wars in which America has been involved with. Since the World Wars affected his family, they are among his favorites to learn about.
As he reflects on his time in Holland during such a reverent season, he shared that people shouldn’t waver from doing the hard things. “These men, who fought for not only America, but for their people, did what needed done. That’s the soldier’s heart – doing what needs done. We can’t give up on that, because they didn’t. There’s always one job that needs done, and if I can do it, I will try my best to.”
Rod also commented, “When you’re standing in places like Verdun and Bastogne, it’s hard to miss the fact that men died and sacrificed their lives to protect a common ideal. It makes it certainly more relatable, when you’re there and can see it face-to-face. You have more perspective to what GI’s had to endure.”
Once more, Margraten and the Netherlands leaves a lasting impression for another Wright County citizen. Rod and Lora, currently residing in Bloomington, will be “soon-to-be-transplants” to the area again, once Rod wraps up his retirement with Medtronic.