MARGRATEN, Netherlands - In a tradition observed since May 1945, a Memorial Day service will be held at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, May 29, 3 p.m. The public is encouraged arrive early as this free event is regularly attended by thousands.

This 67th Memorial Day service will feature Dutch and American dignitaries, the laying of more than 70 wreaths by numerous national delegations, choral music and a flyover by the Royal Dutch Air Force.

The Dutch observe their Remembrance Day May 4 and Liberation Day May 5, but they've made it a tradition on the Sunday before the U.S. Memorial Day to pay tribute to the American service members who fought for freedom and are now buried at the cemetery in Margraten.

The Memorial Day ceremony at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten is open to the public. Ample standing room is available in the mall area of the cemetery to accommodate the thousands who typically attend this event. A limited number of seats are available to ticket holders, but tickets are distributed on a first come, first served basis. Contact the USAG Schinnen Public Affairs Office at 0031-(0)46-443-7331 to request tickets for seats. No tickets are required for the standing areas.

The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is the only American cemetery of its kind in the Netherlands. It is one of 24 permanent American burial grounds operated on foreign soil by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

In September 1944, while the southern part of the Province of Limburg was liberated exclusively by U.S. forces, allied operations in the northern part of the Netherlands were not immediately successful. The Dutch suffered a terrible winter of famine in the north while the allies fought the Battle of the Bulge.

The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial was established in September 1944 by the U.S. 611th Graves Registration Company commanded at the time by U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Shomon. Capt. Shomon's search for a location was ordered by the U.S. Ninth Army as allied forces advanced and preparations for the Battle of the Bulge were underway.

Shomon found his way to the Town Hall of Margraten where a representative who spoke English escorted him to an orchard. There, Shomon and local farmers came to an agreement. The first graves were laid in November 1944.

The cemetery in Margraten was originally a resting place for nearly 18,000 fallen American service members. Today, 8,301 Americans remain buried there. All of the American graves at the cemetery have been adopted by Dutch families, many of whom make a special trip every May 5 to visit the gravesites. This tradition began in May 1945, when Dutch families made the effort to adopt and adorn all 18,000 graves. In addition to the adoption of 8,301 gravesites, all 1,722 names on the cemetery's "Wall of the Missing" have also been adopted.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16