By Sgt. Daniel ColeSeptember 21, 2015
HARSKAMP, Netherlands - An overcast and rainy day did not stop paratroopers from the U.S., the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy from marching 17 kilometers Sept. 17, 2015, in commemoration of their lost brothers and sisters who fought on the same ground here 71 years ago.
"We still commemorate Market Garden because we still commemorate the Second World War," said Dutch Maj. Gwenda Nielen, a paratrooper with the 11th Air Mobility Brigade and organizer of the event. "We do not want to forget what happened, to remember how important it is to have freedom and how important it is to have an army that is well trained and professional."
Seventy-one years prior, the largest airborne operation in history began here. Operation Market, the airborne half of the attack, and Operation Garden, the ground forces part, lasted from Sept. 17-25 and dropped members from the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade far behind enemy lines into Nazi territory.
At first, it had seemed like the plan to launch the 14,500 paratroopers and 20,000 glider troopers into Holland was going to be successful after American troops seized several bridges, which were the main key strategic objectives to be taken.
Ultimately the mission was unsuccessful because of fierce German resistance, who halted the allied paratroopers from seizing their objectives and successfully delayed the relief of allied ground forces.
To commemorate the sacrifices on both sides of Market Garden, and to celebrate the ties they currently enjoy as NATO allies. It was also a chance to experience history, and walk the route British and Polish paratroopers took from their drop zone in Ginkels Heide to their final point of advance in Arnhem.
Command Sgt. Maj. Travis Crow, battalion command sergeant major of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, said the walk is a way for the paratroopers from the different countries to bond and tell stories about their experiences, as well as pay tribute to their fellow paratroopers who were here 71 years ago.
Several stops were on the way to the culminating point at the bridge in Arnhem, which is now named Frost Bridge after a British commander who commanded his troops for nearly four days at the site before German tanks, artillery and infantry forced their withdrawal. Stops included the Ginkel Memorial at the start, the Oosterbeek Memorial site and the St. Elisabeths Gasthuis.
Along the route, the paratroopers walked with each other, speaking and learning about the history each other's nations played, all while building individual relationships and friendships.
"Being in the military and having all of our allies and to work with them and having a shared understanding and being able to do this [the road march] together really creates strong bonds," said U.S. Army Capt. Shane Covert, a company commander in the 54th Engineer Battalion.
Approximately 1,000 paratroopers from the seven participating nations are in the Netherlands for a series of airborne operations and ceremonies for the 71st anniversary.