By Max Poorthuis · July 7, 2017
The Netherlands American Cemetery is located on the beautiful hills just six miles east of Maastricht, The Netherlands. It is the only American military cemetery in the country, and it is often called “Margraten,” after the nearest village. Here rest 8,301 American servicemen and servicewomen. In addition to those who rest here, the names of 1,722 soldiers are chiseled into the Walls of the Missing. Most of these soldiers were killed in action either during the airborne and ground operations to liberate eastern Holland or during the advance into Germany. It was at this cemetery, shortly after it was erected in 1945, that people began tending the graves of American soldiers. This was the start of a phenomenon that can be found nowhere else in the world on such a large scale.
The original idea of adopting the graves of the American liberators came from a local pastor and a city clerk in February of 1945. Soon after, a committee was created “to do as much as is currently possible for the fallen allied soldiers.” At the second Memorial Day service in 1946, every grave in Margraten was adopted. Today, some 70 years later, all 8,301 graves are still adopted by a Dutch, Belgian or even German family, as are all the names on the Walls of the Missing. There is even a waiting list for the many people who want to adopt a grave as soon as one becomes available. Other overseas American cemeteries now have similar adoption programs, but Margraten is the only one where each grave has a caretaker and a waiting list.