CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- In the solemn moments during his trip to the Netherlands American Cemetery this Memorial Day, what struck Army Lt. Col. Kelly Porter, USAG Benelux chaplain, most was the size and formality of the ceremony. "I knew the attendance was large but the big formal elements I was not expecting," said Porter, whose great uncle's brother, Emmett Brown, is buried there. "Everyone there seemed to be there because they thought it was important to remember what these service members had done. They wanted to make it special and significant, and yet personalize it."

That gratitude is evident in the adoption of the U.S. military gravesites by Dutch families who care for and visit them. This practice began at Margraten - the only American military cemetery in the Netherlands - soon after the end of World War II where all 8,301 graves were adopted. Each year about 3,500 visitors attend the Memorial Day ceremony bearing bouquets for men and women they never knew but accept as their own.

The grave of Technician Fifth Grade Emmett Brown was adopted by a Dutch family in 1946 who sent photos and letters to Porter's family in Coxs Creek, Kentucky. In 2005, Jo and Annie Lecroix took on the responsibility of caregivers and have since adopted a second gravesite and are on a waiting list for a third. Porter met the Lecroixs at Brown's grave for the first time after months of email correspondence.

"I saw those [1946] photos growing up. It always struck me: here is this family that doesn't know my family and they are here caring for Emmett," Porter said.

Despite having an exemption from serving because he was a farmer, Brown enlisted in the Army when he was 20 years old. Brown was injured and later died after receiving fire during a reconnaissance mission near Minden, Germany. His mother wanted him to be buried overseas, because she didn't think she could deal with the grief of a funeral in Kentucky.

"It was a great service for her to have him buried here and have his grave maintained," Porter explained. "These caregivers, they're ambassadors. They tell the story...Emmett wouldn't be known to anyone outside of his family but here is a family halfway around the world retelling his story, what he did. I think that is phenomenal.

"These cemeteries draw beauty out of tragedy, this horrible event. The landscape was devastated but here now are beautiful grounds. It causes you to reflect and appreciate what these service members did. That's the beauty."