In the small Dutch town of Hoogeloon, my thumb catches on a golden uniform rope as I slip my cold hand into the crook of my husband’s arm. The light breeze does not disturb the performance of the flag twirlers nor does it raise the British, Dutch and American flags at half mast to full furling. The occasion is Remembrance Day, and to refer to it as Dutch Memorial Day does an injustice.
In the US, Memorial Day has for most become a day off with a nod to those who gave their lives for our freedom. Not so in The Netherlands where two minutes of silence are marked across the land at 7:58 pm.
My husband and I march behind the wreath carriers and scouts holding high eternal-flame reminiscent torches. Two Dutchmen, one Brit and four Americans died during WWII in this little place with 2000 residents. Their photos sit in the church beside the wreaths during the first half of the remembrance service. My husband was invited to honor these men, to lay a wreath, to salute their memorial.
Acts and speakers are punctuated by music. With uniformed members from ages twelve to 70+ at attention, the community band plays the Dutch national song, and My Country Tis of Thee, then a hymn, and The Star Spangled Banner. Three high school students read about what remembrance and sacrifice means to them. The Mayor, bedecked in the silver collar of his office, speaks. The scouts fan out beside the memorial, and I notice one tilting his feet on edge. Feet unused to standing for so long a period. Feet, about 10 years old, learning what sacrifices were made for their freedom to rest while a boy plays video games. Feet unconcerned with hiding from invaders or being exceptionally quiet so as not to disturb oppressors.
The youngest participant marches his feet when the band plays, even though he is part of the drum corps, which is a separate unit dressed in blue with feather-plumed floppy round hats. Not until the end, when over 300 community members crowd forward to lay flowers at the monument, do I see other smaller children. I remembere my father lamenting the small turnout for a bygone Memorial Day ceremony by the courthouse in my small Kentucky hometown. Do the Dutch make too much of the day or we back home too little?
Do the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these soldiers know how their family member is honored and thanked again and again by people grateful for young soldiers crossing oceans to fight?
We speak their names: Eddy Jones, William Williams, John Burke, Nick Pehote, Jacob Fraasse, Jan Goosens, Jan Balkduk. We speak to recognize their sacrifice, to acknowledge the pain and loss their families bore, to remember history should not be reduced to numbers but has a name. Names and faces taught to young Dutch children in small towns and large cities all around The Netherlands.
The Remembrance Day organizers thanked us, were grateful for the gift of our presence, but they gave us, our soldiers, and our country so much more.
Two minutes of silence, and then thousands of church bells peal.