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American Veterans Gather in Holland - 65th Anniversary of 'Market Garden' Celebrated

American Veterans Gather in Holland
65th Anniversary of 'Market Garden' Celebrated

By René van Slooten

On September 17 through 19, hundreds of American, British and Polish veterans gathered in Holland, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of 'Operation Market Garden.' That was Montgomery's daring plan to end the war in Europe early in 1944, by occupying the bridges over the major rivers and canals in Holland with airborne troops, in order to create a free corridor into Germany. The operation became known as 'A Bridge too Far', because the British 1st Airborne Division could not hold the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem, although the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Division reached their goals at Eindhoven, Grave and Nijmegen, despite heavy losses. But 'Market Garden' did liberate a large part of Holland and considerably weakened the German army, and the American, British and Polish soldiers became instant heroes, to this very day.

This year the major part of the celebrations were organized on the 19th and 20th of September around Nijmegen, where the large bridge over the river Waal was the center of the festivities. Together with thousands of grateful Dutch citizens, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Philip of England watched the parade of the veterans. Many of them were sitting in military vehicles from the war, that are kept in spotless original condition by the volunteers of the Dutch organization 'Keep them Rolling': HD motorcycles, Willy jeeps, GM trucks, Dodge command cars, White half-tracks and even a Sherman tank were present.

But on September 18 the celebrations were in Eindhoven, the town where I was born two months after the liberation by the 506 PIR, the 'Band of Brothers' from the 101st Airborne Division. This happened just in time to save my parents from prison and worse, because they had helped to hide Jews and were betrayed. My mother had already been arrested and interrogated once, and she was expecting a second arrest. No wonder that she always remembered the American paratroopers as 'The angels who fell from Heaven'!

Since the liberation saved my life, it is always emotional for me to meet American veterans from WWII, although after 65 years I still have not found the right words to express my gratitude. Fortunately, there were quite a few veterans his year, and it was a great joy to see how enthusiastic they were received and honored by the population of Eindhoven. Wherever the veterans went, they were welcomed, thanked and touched, and they were continuously asked for their autographs and signatures in books about the war. The shops had 'Thank you for the Liberation' posters in the front windows, and the personnel in hotels, restaurants and pubs wore special 'Thank You' T-shirts.

In the afternoon of the 18th, the American veterans, American guests, the American ambassador and many Dutch civilians and American and Dutch military gathered in the forest near the small town of Best, to commemorate Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole of the 502 PIR, who died there 65 years ago. Lt. Col. Cole was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Normandy, but he was killed near Best before he could receive it. He is buried at the American Military Cemetery 'Margraten' in The Netherlands, together with 8,300 of his comrades who fell during 'Market Garden' and the 'Battle of the Bulge' in the Ardennes.

Capt. John Doherty and his mysteries

Ever since I knew that my life was saved by American soldiers, I wanted to express my gratitude. Several years ago I tried to adopt one of the graves at 'Margraten', but these had all been adopted by Dutch civilians a long time ago. Many graves remain adopted by the same Dutch families, from one generation to the next, since the war! But since there is a waiting list for adoption of a grave at 'Margraten', a year ago the possibility was offered to adopt one of the 1,722 names on the 'Wall of the Missing,' which I did immediately. And I was not the only one, for within half a year more than 700 names had been adopted!

So for a year now I have been the proud adopter of Capt. John S. Doherty, 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. He was MIA on 18 September 1944, the same date that my parents were liberated! This struck me particularly, and I wanted to find Doherty's family and know all about him. Thanks to the excellent websites of the American Battle Monuments Commission and the World War II Memorial, I soon found out that John Doherty came from Lockport, Erie County, NY, and that he was a medical officer. Via the internet I found Patrick Welch, the Director of Veterans Affairs in Erie County, who incredibly quickly managed to bring me into contact with Doherty's family. They were surprised at first, but then very happy to learn that people in Holland still care so much about what happened 65 years ago. Doherty's granddaughter Elizabeth and I have now joined forces to find out what happened to Doherty on 18 September 1944, why he and three of his men were MIA after they landed with their Waco glider near Nijmegen, and why their bodies were never recovered, despite many searches of the area after the war. And I can say that we have already made much progress to solve that mystery, thanks to information from American and German archives, the help of Dutch and German journalists, and he advice and support of Charles and Alfred Nigl, the authors of 'Silent Wings Savage Death; The Saga of the 319th GFAB'.

Links: for video's of the celebrations in Holland. Search with 'Market Garden 2009' for pictures of the celebrations in Eindhoven. and for the adoption program and stories of American heroes who are resting at 'Margraten' Cemetery, or whose names are on the 'Wall of the Missing'.