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American World War II heroes adopted in ‘Faces of Margraten’ project by ‘grateful’ Dutch people

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The staggering sacrifices of U.S. troops in overseas conflicts have not been forgotten by younger generations in Europe.

Ask the Dutch people. Look at Margraten’s face.

“My relatives and ancestors suffered a lot during World War II and were very grateful to be liberated,” Sebastian Vonk, 31, Fields of Honor’s Dutch chairman, told Fox News Digital in an interview Friday.

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“The next generation is also very grateful that these people came here and fought in a war that wasn’t necessarily one they should have had to fight in.”

Vonk founded “Faces of Margraten” to connect today’s grateful Dutch people with the Americans who fought and died to liberate the Netherlands, and all of Europe, from Adolf Hitler’s Germany during World War II.

The grave of American soldier Thomas B. Ewell, Jr., in the American Cemetery in Holland. The Dutch “embraced” all 10,000 Americans memorialized in the cemetery, and now they are soliciting photos of each GI for the Margraten Faces Project. (Fields of Honor Foundation/Jean-Pierre Joussens)

It is a remarkable international effort to embrace and honor the 10,000 American soldiers currently buried or memorialized at the Dutch American Cemetery in the small community of Margraten.

Dutch families have already “adopted” all 10,000 soldiers, and Vonk said there is also a “waiting list of people wanting to adopt” in case they miss out on the opportunity from other would-be adopters or families.

Call for Photos of American War Heroes

Fonck is now leading an effort to match each name on the grave with the face of an American war hero, and is expanding the effort to five other U.S. battlefield cemeteries in Europe.

He has collected photographs of some 42,000 American soldiers and their families in the United States and is trying to find adoptive families in Europe.

He said it was an effort to “humanize” the costs of war and the sacrifices made by the United States.

Netherlands American Cemetery for the Fallen of World War II

Sergeant Paul McErlane, of Lowell, Massachusetts, was killed in action in Europe as a bomber crewman during World War II. He is now remembered on a missing persons memorial at the American Cemetery in the Netherlands. He is one of thousands of Americans who are commemorated today on missing persons memorials in Europe and at ABMC cemeteries. Their remains have never been recovered. (Kelly J. Byrne/Fox News Digital)

To date, 8,651 photos have been taken.

Vonk and his adoptive family in the Netherlands continue to search for photos of the other 1,400 American heroes buried in their country.

These photographs, dubbed Margraten’s Faces, are displayed next to the graves and names of the GIs they adopted for five days each year, but Dutch people honour their memories all year round.

Europeans “appreciate what these Americans have done for us, and I am impressed.”

The Netherlands was conquered in 1940 and placed under an often brutal occupation until the end of World War II in 1945. Approximately 140,000 American soldiers died in Europe alone during the war.

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The Dutch adoptive family researches the history of the American soldiers, they contact and even visit their families in the US, and they tend to their graves in Margraten.

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

World War II hero

Lawrence F. Shea was a sports fanatic from Brooklyn who was killed in action in Europe during World War II. He is buried in the Dutch American Cemetery. (Courtesy of the Scheer family)

Thea is one of 250 GIs featured in “Faces of Margraten,” a large-format book that Vonk co-wrote with Arie-Jan van Hees and Jori Wideck. The book will be published in English for the first time in November 2022 and will be available on online booksellers such as Amazon.

“He grew up…partly in an orphanage after his mother died in the 1930s,” Faces of Margraten said in its biography of See. He was described as “an ordinary boy, very sporty.”

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The “ordinary” kid from Brooklyn served in the 80th Infantry Division during World War II. On April 2, 1945, he was killed by enemy tank fire while fighting just over the German border, not far from Margraten.

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

The Ardennes American Cemetery and 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.

Holland American Cemetery

The people of the Netherlands have commemorated all 10,000 American servicemen who died in World War II and are now buried or memorialized in the Dutch American Military Cemetery in Margraten, and they are calling for photos of all 10,000 people in their “Faces of Margraten” project. (Fields of Honor Foundation/Jean-Pierre Joussens)

Many of the American heroes who rest in these graves have already been claimed by local individuals and families.

The goal is to find individuals or families to adopt all 42,000 American war heroes who lost their lives during the liberation of Europe and are buried in these cemeteries.

And, of course, he wants to put together a photo of all the GI soldiers at each cemetery.

The goal is to find all 42,000 of America’s war heroes an individual or family to adopt.

“The fact that there is a waiting list for the Margraten grave and that thousands of graves in other cemeteries have already been claimed is very telling of how Europeans still feel today towards their American liberators,” Vonk said.

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“They are grateful and I personally am impressed with what these Americans have done for us.”

Three ways Americans can help

Fonck offered a suggestion for Americans who want to support Fields of Honor, which connects American war heroes with grateful European adoptive families.

1. Relatives of GI Corps members are encouraged to see if they have any photos or documents somewhere in their homes.

Luxembourg American Cemetery

The Luxembourg American Cemetery is the final resting place of 5,070 Americans who died in Europe during World War II, including the grave of General George S. Patton. (Kelly J. Byrne/Fox News)

2. Vonk said civilians — “our soldiers on the ground” — are encouraged to seek out soldiers in their home states and towns.

3. Americans can reach out to libraries, high schools, historical societies, veterans associations, and relatives by calling or writing letters.

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“You never know where you might find photos,” Vonk said, “so in some way, anyone could help.”

If you are interested in this project, Fields of Honor Foundation Website.

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