MARGRATEN, The Netherlands — Students from the AFNORTH International High School and the Geilenkirchen Elementary School gathered with service and family members of the tri-border community to honor all Veterans at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial Nov. 11.
The ceremony took place under chilly, cloudy, but dry skies and included musical performances by the students, the reading of selected student poems, and the presentation of the National Colors by the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Honor Platoon.
"We honor their sacrifice,... we honor their names,... we honor those who serve," sang the students led by the school's Music Director Liz Nuits. Students and participants gathered around the memorial tower in which the chapel is located and where student's poems written for the occasion were laid on the altar in a solemn gesture of respect.
The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission, is where 8,301 U.S. service members are buried and is located in the heart of the Province of Limburg, which was liberated exclusively by U.S. forces in 1944 and is where a NATO headquarters and U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen is based today.
The American Cemetery in Margraten was the resting site for over 18,000 U.S. soldiers when it was first established by the U.S. Ninth Army in 1944. Before the ceremony, students were guided by Frenk Lahaye, a Netherlands American Cemetery Associate and a native of the Netherlands. Speaking perfect English, he explained why Margraten became the site of the only American cemetery in the Netherlands.
"When the cemetery was first established in 1944, great respect to all war dead was given equally no matter whose side they were on. I think how we treat and respect soldiers is a reflection on our society. Days like today are important," Lahaye said to the students.
In September 1944, while the southern part of the Netherlands was liberated by U.S. forces, allied operations in the northern part of the Netherlands were not immediately successful. The Dutch suffered a terrible winter of famine in the north while the allies fought the Battle of the Bulge.
The liberation in the southern part of the Netherlands enabled work to begin on the Netherlands American Cemetery. It wasn't until late spring of 1945 that peace returned to Europe - and to think that roots of Veterans Day can be traced to the end of World War I, which officially ended at the eleventh minute of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918.
The Netherlands American Cemetery, which has held a Memorial Day Ceremony each year since it was established, is noted for having every single grave adopted by a local Dutch family - all 8,301 graves. The adoption program is so successful that an effort is underway to enable Dutch families to adopt names on the cemetery's "Wall of the Missing."
"Veterans Day allows us to honor the heroes who answered the call to duty more than 230 years ago and to honor the men and women who proudly serve in the Armed Forces today, many of whom are your parents or guardians," said U.S. Army Col. Francis Caponio, NATO's Joint Forces Command Facility Management Branch Head, Brunssum, Netherlands, as he gave the formal address during the Veterans Day Ceremony here today.
"The Veterans we honor today were part of something much bigger than themselves. The students here today are part of a military family and are also part of something much bigger than themselves, too. It takes a special kind strength and understanding to be part of a military family ... and watch those you love give so much," Caponio said.
The AFNORTH International High School in Brunssum, Netherlands, and the Geilenkirchen Elementary School on the NATO Airbase in Geilenkirchen, Germany, support students whose parents are assigned to NATO's Joint Forces Command in Brunssum, Netherlands or the NATO Air Base in Geilenkirchen, Germany.
The AFNORTH International High School is distinct to most other high schools in that it is operated by faculty from Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States and may accommodate students from any one of the NATO allies serving there - a truly international scholastic environment.
U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen, who provided support for the Veterans Ceremony held today in Margraten, is the only U.S. Army Garrison in the Netherlands. USAG Schinnen celebrated its 40th Anniversary of being based in the Town of Schinnen this year. They joined with the Town of Schinnen to celebrate the town's 65th Anniversary of Liberation in a weekend of festivities Sept. 18-20 that is now heralded as the garrison's largest community relations event ever.