Outside the small village of Margraten, Netherlands, lies the Dutch American cemetery. Here are the graves of American soldiers killed during the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazi regime during World War II.
On Sunday, the residents of the village came to the cemetery in droves bearing flowers in celebration of Memorial Day.
Each grave in the cemetery has been adopted by a Dutch, German, or Belgian family. Some are cared for by schools and military organizations. Over 100 people are on a waiting list to become a caretaker of a grave.
The cemetery’s history is traced back to November of 1944. Two months after Margraten was freed from Nazi occupation, the American military selected a fruit orchard outside the village as a place to bury their dead.
During the burials and afterward, the residents of Margraten embraced the Americans, helping dig graves and inviting commanders to sleep in their homes.
Caretakers of American graves make it a priority to deliver flowers to the graves on important occasions like the soldier’s birthday, Christmas, and Memorial Day.
“My mother will call me up sometimes and say, ‘Shall we go to the cemetery? I’ve got a bouquet for Henry,’ ” said resident Frans Roebroeks, a board member of the cemetery, “She usually picks the flowers from her own garden.”
During the cemetery’s annual commemoration, 6,000 people pour in to the cemetery. Among them this year was American Arthur Chotin, 70, who came to meet the people who care for his father’s grave.
“What would cause a nation recovering from losses and trauma of their own to adopt the sons and daughters of another nation?” He asked during the commemoration ceremony. “And what would keep that commitment alive for all of these years, when the memory of that war has begun to fade? It is a unique occurrence in the history of civilization.”