Today I had the privilege to accompany the Girl Scouts on their yearly task of preparing Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten for the Memorial Day ceremonies, which take place tomorrow.
The experience was just amazing.
I'm not even sure how to put everything into words. But I'll try.
First of all, the drive there is incredible. The Dutch countryside is full of rolling hills and there are charming villages throughout...not very touristy, but with plenty to see! I was so tempted to plead with the bus driver to stop so that I could get out and look at all the tiny little art galleries and antique shops. And some of the villages had very old and astonishingly beautiful buildings...the kind of buildings you see in the big tourist trap cities. I definitely want Lance to take a trip with me so we can stop at all those little towns along the way.
Once we got to the cemetery, the first thing I saw was the reflecting pool. The place was crawling with tourists, both American and European alike, and Girl and Boy Scouts everywhere. But despite that, I found the reflecting pool to be peaceful and somber, a beautiful reminder of the sacrifices that these brave men and women made during World War II. The statue at the reflecting pool represents the figure of sorrow with doves and a new shoot emerging from a war destroyed tree. The inscription at the base (which isn't visible in the picture) says, "New Life from War's Destruction Proclaims Man's Immortality and Hope for Peace." Behind the sculpture is the memorial tower, which contains the chapel.
There were also two walls that feature the names of 1,722 missing Army and Army Air Corps men. There are asterisks marking those who have been recovered since the construction of the walls.
The first thing I did was walk around the entire perimeter of the cemetery, taking as many pictures as I could of the grounds (I used my good camera too, so the digital camera only produced 8 decent photos). After I was satisfied that I had some good shots, I got down to the business of helping the scouts with their task - putting US and Dutch flags at the foot of each grave. Its a process that takes several hours, as there are 8,301 headstones. But there were a large number of scouts and a portion of it was already done by the time we got there. A special tool is required, which has spikes to put the holes in the ground deep enough for the flags to stand. So the Dads and some of the scout leaders were doing that, while the girls followed behind them with the flags to place into the ground. There were flower arrangements that also needed to be put out, sent by some of the families of the people buried there. I was responsible for making sure that the flower arrangements went to the correct graves.
While we were there, the US Ambassador to the Netherlands arrived. He comes every year to pose for pictures with the scouts. Dutch television crews were there, so I might possibly be on the Dutch news tonight.
I was also asked to help put Oklahoma flags out on the graves of those from Oklahoma. There is a man who has been doing this for years and he's too sick with cancer and he's had several strokes. From what I heard, he doesn't have very long to live. But he asked the scouts to continue his tradition, so I was handed some Oklahoma state flags and I carefully walked to each grave to look for the ones that said Oklahoma. And then I placed a flag there.
I also want to note that every hour on the hour, the bells inside the memorial tower would chime and carillon music would play for maybe 10 minutes...mostly patriotic songs and things like "Amazing Grace."
I was allowed to go on top of the memorial tower, which gave wonderful views of the cemetery and surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, I had run out of film on my good camera, so the pictures on the digital didn't come out well. The only one I saved was the view of the cemetery. The ones of the surrounding area didn't turn out so well.
I won't be able to attend the ceremony tomorrow, but rehearsals for it were held today and I think it's going to be very moving.We couldn't have had more perfect weather for this. It is in the mid-70's and bright and sunny (which wasn't good for some of the photos, but great for the task at hand). I guess it usually rains every year when the scouts do this, so everyone was absolutely thrilled that the weather turned out so wonderfully.