In honor of Veterans Day, we want to share a pretty amazing story from this past year.
This story is shared with the permission of Dr. Chris Cottrell.
Living in the BENELUX area of western Europe, of course there is history all around. In particular, there is evidence of World War I and World War II all around.
Living in Holland, we have seen a lot of historic appreciation extended to the U.S.A. for their part in restoring the Netherlands to Dutch rule during the era of Nazi Germany.
In fact, in September 2014, we visited historic Maastricht, one of our favorite cities. It was a Saturday morning, and quickly we realized something was unusual about the day. There were period vehicles from the era of the 2nd War. Following the commotion, we stumbled upon a gathering of elderly men who were remaining U. S. military survivors who had taken part in the Liberation of Maastricht. The date happened to commemorate 70 years since Maastricht was liberated from the clutch of The Third Reich.
As both of us had grandfathers who were U.S. servicemen during the war (Christy’s grandpa in the Army Corp of Engineers, and Daniel’s grandpa running back and forth across the Atlantic in the U. S. Navy), it was especially touching to us to see these elderly men receiving a Hero’s Welcome into a city that was deeply appreciative for their efforts 7 decades ago.
Nearby to Maastricht is a large American War Cemetery which entombs the remains of many American sons (and a few daughters) who gave their lives during the 2nd World War. It is in the small town of Margraten. This is really a sacred place, and one that we enjoy taking visitors to. It helps us to remember the past. It helps us to remember the sacrifices of so many in the name of Liberty and Justice.
This past June, we had the privilege of hosting a small group from the Ohio Ministries’ Missions Committee. This trip was to give them a broad understanding of the diverse Three Worlds we live and work in. For a few days, we hosted this group, led by Dr. Esther Cottrell (State Pastor for Ohio Ministries) in our neck of the woods, in Holland.
Driving from the airport, I (Dan) chatted with Dr. Chris Cottrell (Esther’s husband). In this conversation, he relayed to me that his grandfather was involved in World War 2. In fact, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Furthermore, he watched his brother (Chris’s great-uncle) fall in the line of duty in the Battle of the Bulge.
After a few days of connecting with our church leaders here in Holland and giving seminars, we seized the opportunity to take our Buckeye visitors to Margraten, to the American Cemetery.
|Chris Cottrell preaching in Kerkrade.|
|Chris Cottrell giving one of the many seminars the group from Ohio Ministries provided.|
|The memorial between the Reflecting Pool and the Cemetery in Margaten.|
After walking through the informative section and the memorial section (complete with reflecting pool and list of soldiers MIA), we arrived at the cemetery. For all extensive purposes, it’s like a smaller version of Normandy: row after row of white Latin Cross (or Star of David) paying homage to the final resting place of the men and women buried beneath. It’s breath-taking and humbling, especially keeping in mind that this is a minute fraction of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for freedom.
But as we took a few minutes and spread out, I noticed that Chris was walking unnaturally fast and seemed to really be scouring the names listed on the crosses. I approached Esther, who said: “He’s looking for his uncle.”
|Chris and Esther amongst the graves in Margaten.|
Whoa. It had not even dawned on me that his uncle could have been buried over here on European soil.
I asked Esther his name and where he was from.
She said the family name was "GOULD," and he was probably from Michigan.
I began walking quickly to the registration center to ask if they could see if he was here. But then I remember I had Google at my fingertips. So as I typed in my phone “GOULD + MICHIGAN + AMERICAN WAR CEMETERY,” it took me to a database, which listed two fallen soldiers with the family name "Gould."
I quickly approached Chris and erupted with the good news: “I think I found him…”
I think both Chris and I were in disbelief that it really could be that simple. But as I read the family information, Chris responded: “Yes, that’s my grandpa's name. This is him. Is he here?!?”
The bad news was he is not buried in Margraten, or anywhere in the Netherlands.
The good news is that he is buried in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, 25 minutes to the south in Belgium.
Nothing could have prevented our car from making that 25-minute journey through the hills and small towns of northern Belgium.
Arriving shortly before the Cemetery was set to close, I quickly led Chris & Esther to the location my phone gave:
Plot: C, Row: 6, Grave # 52.
Chris shared with me that he was the first person in their family ever to stand at his great-uncle's grave. In fact, nobody in the family even knew precisely where he was buried. After returning from the War, Chris's grandfather was so traumatized by having watched his own brother fall in battle that that was all the closure he needed.
Now, not only did the family know where he was buried, but now Chris has seen it and has pictures. Additionally, through conversations with the Director of the Cemetery, this grave has been 'adopted' by a Belgian man for the past several years. So even though family was unaware of the location of the grave, some individual was honoring the grave periodically with flowers as an act of memorial and appreciation.
This may go down as one of the coolest moments of my life. I was privileged in that my grandpa made it home after the War. He got to live out the rest of his long life in peace, surrounded by his family. I cannot imagine the sacrifice so many families know all too well (even in more recent wars): their loved one not coming home. On this Veterans Day, let us remember those veterans who paid the ultimate price. Let us remember their families who mourn their loss. And let us rejoice in those who return home, safely.
Thank you for your service.
To have such a small part in helping Chris’s family be reunited with the grave of their family member, and to connect the dots of their family’s history is priceless. It is an unexpected honor and privilege which we will forever cherish.