American WWII Heroes Adopted in ‘Faces of Margraten’ Project by ‘Grateful’ Dutch

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The astounding sacrifices of American troops in conflicts abroad are not forgotten by Europe’s younger generations.

Ask the Dutch. Look at Margraten’s faces.

“My relatives and my ancestors suffered a lot during World War II and they were very grateful for their liberation,” Sebastiaan Vonk, Dutch president of Fields of Honor, 31, told Fox News Digital in an interview on Friday.

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“Later generations are also very grateful that these men and women came here to fight in a war that was not necessarily a war they had to fight.”

Vonk founded Faces of Margraten to connect the grateful people of today’s Netherlands with Americans who fought and died in efforts to free their nation – and all of Europe – from Adolf Hitler’s Germany during WWII.

Grave of American GI Thomas B. Youell Jr. at the Netherlands American Cemetery. The Dutch people “adopted” the 10,000 Americans commemorated at the cemetery. They are now looking for photos of every GI in the Faces of Margraten project. (Fields of Honor Foundation/Jean-Pierre Geusens)

This is a remarkable international effort to embrace and honor 10,000 American GIs who are buried or memorialized today at the Netherlands American Cemetery in the small community of Margraten.

Dutch families have already “adopted” the 10,000 soldiers. Vonk said there is even “a waiting list of people looking to adopt,” if another adoptive person or family passes them on the opportunity.

Searching for photos of American war heroes

Vonk is now leading an effort to associate every name in the cemetery with the face of this American war hero, while also expanding his efforts to five other American battlefield cemeteries in Europe.

It is seeking adoptive families in Europe for approximately 42,000 American GIs and photos of their families in the United States.

It is, he says, an effort to “humanize” the cost of the war and the sacrifices made by the United States.

Netherlands American Cemetery deceased during WWII

Sgt. Paul McErlane of Lowell, Massachusetts, died in Europe while serving on a bomber crew during World War II. He is remembered today at the Netherlands American Cemetery in a memorial to those lost in action. He is one of thousands of Americans honored today—and whose remains have never been found—in MIA memorials and ABMC cemeteries across Europe. (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News Digital)

They currently have 8,651 photographs.

Vonk and the Netherlands’ adoptive families are still searching for photos of the other 1,400 American heroes buried in their country.

The photos – Margraten’s faces – are placed next to the grave or name of their adopted GI for five days each year. But their memories are honored by the Dutch throughout the year.

Europeans “are grateful and, for my part, inspired by what these Americans have done for us.”

The Netherlands was conquered in 1940 and occupied, often brutally, until the end of World War II in 1945. About 140,000 American troops were killed in Europe alone during the conflict.

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Dutch adoptive families search for the story of their American soldier. They often connect with, even visit, their families in the United States, and tend to their graves in Margraten.

Vonk himself adopted Lawrence F. Shea, born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 12, 1923.

Heroes of the Second World War

Lawrence F. Shea was a Brooklyn sports fan who was killed in Europe during World War II. He is buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery. (Courtesy of the Shea family)

Shea is one of 250 GIs who appear in the book “The Faces of Margraten,” written by Vonk, with Arie-Jan van Hees and Jori Videc, first published in English in November 2022 and available from Amazon and other booksellers in line.

“As his mother died in the 1930s, he grew up partly in an orphanage,” “Faces of Margraten” reports in its biography of Shea. It is said that he “was an ordinary, sports-loving boy.”

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The “ordinary” boy from Brooklyn served in the 80th Infantry Division during World War II. He was fighting just across the German border, not far from Margraten, when he was killed by enemy tank artillery on April 2, 1945.

The Faces of Margraten project has been so successful that Vonk and his Fields of Honor Foundation recently expanded the program to five additional U.S. military cemeteries located in three other countries.

The Ardennes American Cemetery and the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery are both in Belgium; the Epinal American Cemetery and the Lorraine American Cemetery are both in France; and the Luxembourg American Cemetery is in Luxembourg.

American cemetery in the Netherlands

The people of the Netherlands have embraced the 10,000 American service members killed during World War II and buried or memorialized today at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. They are looking for photos for the 10,000 people participating in the Faces of Margraten project. (Fields of Honor Foundation/Jean-Pierre Geusens)

Many of the American heroes in these graves have already been adopted by local individuals or families.

The goal is to ensure that the 42,000 American war heroes memorialized in these cemeteries and killed during the liberation of Europe find an individual or family to adopt them.

And of course, he hopes to associate photos with every GI in every cemetery.

The goal is to ensure that America’s 42,000 war heroes find an individual or family to adopt them.

“The simple fact that there is a waiting list to adopt a grave in Margraten and the fact that thousands of other graves have already been adopted in other cemeteries is very telling of what Europeans still think today ‘American liberators today,’ Vonk said. .

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“They are grateful and, for my part, inspired by what these Americans have done for us.”

3 Ways Americans Can Help

Vonk shared suggestions for Americans looking to help Fields of Honor match grateful European adoptive families with American war heroes.

1. Relatives of GIs are encouraged to check if they might have photos or documents somewhere in their home.

Luxembourg American Cemetery

The Luxembourg American Military Cemetery is the resting place of 5,070 Americans killed in Europe during World War II. Among them is the grave of General George S. Patton. (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News)

2. Members of the public — “our boots on the ground,” Vonk said — are encouraged to search for Soldiers in their home state or city.

3. Americans can call, write, and contact libraries, high schools, historical societies, veterans’ associations, and their loved ones.

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“You never know where to find a photo,” Vonk said. “And so, in a sense, anyone can help.”

Those interested in the project can learn more on the Fields of Honor Foundation website.

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