Honoring American Heroes in the Netherlands


Joob Simons, Amie Dryer, Angel Gingras, and Marlise Simons at the grave of Russell O. Meade at Netherlands American Cemetery.

Angelique Gingras, Author

World War II was one of the largest conflicts in military history, marked by a large number of casualties worldwide. The United States sent 16 million men and women into battle after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. By 1945, there were an estimated 400,000 American deaths and many more wounded. Many of those who sacrificed their lives have received very little individual recognition because of the sheer number of casualties.
    National History Day, an organization dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of history, aims to correct this through its Silent Hero Program.
    I was able to take a trip to the Netherlands as part of the program to commemorate Operation Market Garden, an advancement by the allies in September 1944 to liberate Holland. My role on this trip was to help memorialize a fallen hero I had researched for months. This experience expanded my love of history and travel, and I have gained a greater appreciation for those who lost their lives to protect our country.
     I learned about the program last September when my history teacher Amie Dryer informed me about a National History Day trip to the Netherlands. We applied and three days later found out we were selected as one of ten student/teacher teams from around the country. I later learned that we were the first students to take part in the Liberation Route Europe Foundation’s goal of marking the route traveled by American soldiers.
    To prepare, each team selected a local soldier who lost their life in WWII and is buried at Netherlands American Cemetery. Students would present a eulogy to their soldier in a memorial service at the cemetery. We had to learn as much about our soldier’s life as possible and study Operation Market Garden, which took place 75 years ago.
     We chose Corporal Russell Owen Meade of Annapolis, who was killed in action on September 18, 1944. We spent six weeks researching Meade using www.ancestry.com and the National Archives in College Park.
     We arrived in Amsterdam on November 14 and immediately met our tour guides from the Liberation Route Europe Foundation. We visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, traveled to historic spots throughout southern Holland, including the German War Cemetery and Freedom Museum and got a taste of delicious Dutch cuisine.
    Leading up to the Silent Hero Presentation at the cemetery, I worked on the eulogy I was to give for Cpl. Meade and spoke with locals who knew about the American soldiers. I learned about the circumstances of Cpl. Meade’s death through the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery. Dutch citizens have adopted every single grave and maintain the sites as a sign of appreciation to their fallen liberators.
     November 16 we traveled to the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten to meet the residents and present our eulogies. Upon meeting Cpl. Meade’s adopters, Joob and Marlise Simons, I understood their appreciation for him went beyond just simply taking care of his grave marker. They enjoyed learning about his life as well.
     Dr. Cathy Gorn has been the director of NHD for 37 years, and has directed over 21 international institutes, including this one.
     “There were so many great moments,” said Gorn. “I think the best were watching and listening to the students talk about their Silent Heroes… and watching the emotions on the faces of the students and the adopters.”
     Presenting my eulogy honoring Cpl. Meade was an incredibly valuable experience. We rode through the area where Cpl. Meade and his regiment were on the day he lost his life. I gained a newfound respect for Meade and his fellow paratroopers who carried out the liberation.
     My experience commemorating Cpl. Meade is not over yet. Currently, Mrs. Dryer and I are finishing up our research on Meade and are in contact with his biological family. We are preparing to launch a webpage featuring Meade on NHD’s Silent Hero Profile website.
    My favorite part of the trip was interacting with everyone I met. I loved meeting new friends who I was able to have this adventure with. The Dutch citizens were so kind and welcoming to us as students. I was amazed with how much knowledge the Dutch have of their liberators.
    “We were walking in historical steps… surrounded by history and it’s a different meaning and very interesting work than a vacation,” said Dryer. “I hope it gave you an appreciation for the sacrifices our men made to liberate another country.”
If you would like to learn more about our trip, see a brief documentary: youtube.com/watch?v=-3utExD0-VE&t=104s. 
The teacher-student team profiles of their chosen soldiers are now online at: nhdsilentheroes.org.
This article was edited and originally published in the Bay Weekly on February 27, 2020.