Very impressive: a visit to the American Cemetery Margraten. More than 8,000 American soldiers who died during the Second World War, are buried here.
From cropland to graveyard
Most of the 8,301 soldiers who are buried in the cemetery (formerly cropland) died during the liberation of Limburg, the Battle of the Bulge – nearly 77,000 Americans lost their lives – and during the fighting in the Ruhr region.
The cemetery was founded in November 1944, barely two months after the South of Limburg was liberated. The cemetary was difficult to construct because of the wet swampy clay soil. The dead diggers were not only German prisoners of war but also many American black soldiers, who had no place in combat units during that days. They had the thankless task burying their white comrades. Returning home they were confronted again with racial segregation.
Five hundred bodies per day
Digging the graves was hard labour, physically and emotionally. An almost endless stream of fresh bodies arrived, sometimes five hundred per day. After the war had ended, nearly 18 thousand bodies were buried. This includes the german soldiers, who were moved later to the German military cemetery in Ysselsteyn.
Final resting place for 8,301Americans
In 1948 they started to exhume and honorable rebury all the bodies in coffins. About ten thousand bodies were repatriated to the United States. Eventually 8,301 Americans are permanently buried in Margraten. One grave is empty these days, because in 2001 a body was brought back to the US. In one grave there are two unidentified Americans buried, so nevertheless there are as many graves as bodies at the cemetery.
In the 50s, the cemetery got its final destination. Each grave got a white marble tomb cross or a Star of David. In this period the memorial tower was built, and a chapel and memorial wall with the names of aproximately 1,700 missing bodies. In 1960, the cemetery was officially opened by Queen Juliana. In 2005, US President George W. Bush visited the cemetary during his visit to the Netherlands.
To dispel a common misconception: the cemetery is not US territory. The area of respect and homage is given to the Americans as ‘perpetual loan’. Every year the dead in the cemetery are commemorated at the Sunday before Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, when the Americans commemorate their fallen soldiers.
Since 1945 it is possible to adopt a grave. Who wants to adopt a grave, will be put on a waiting list because all graves are adopted.
The cemetery is every day open from 9:00 am untill 17:00 pm, except on December 25th and January 1st. The sea of white crosses and the awareness that all the fallen soldiers have been the reason of our freedom, must leave an indelible impression on every visitor.