ARNHEM, Netherlands -- Thousands of people looked up to the clouds with glee and amazement as several dozen paratroopers of various allied nations floated down from the sky during one of the many airborne jumps conducted throughout the week in commemoration of Operation Market Garden.
2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the operation that liberated several Dutch towns from Nazi-German occupation during WWII. Cities in the Netherlands held events Sept. 14-22, honoring the Allied soldiers that fought bravely and gave their lives.
"Seventy-five years have passed since this area witnessed the beginning of the end of the war marked by the airborne landing of the 17th of September 1944," said Mark Slinkman, the mayor of Berg en Dal, at the General Gavin Memorial commemoration. "People left their houses and workshops, and gazed up to a sky filled with hundreds upon hundreds of descending figures. Such a sight had never been seen before."
Places like Berg en Dal, Groesbeek, Eerde and Nijmegen hosted the commemorations that included speeches from key figures such as mayors and distinguished visitors. Other special tributes included music and poems by local citizens, laying of wreaths, airborne paradrops and battlefield reenactments.
"We go from one small town to another small town and we're amazed by the crowds," said Peter Hoekstra, the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sept. 17, at the Liberation of Eerde commemoration. "This is what they fought for, and this is what the Dutch have created, a country that is thankful and recognizes the responsibility that comes with the opportunities that were made by the sacrifices of these individuals and their colleagues."
Market Garden is the largest military airborne operation to date, with more than 34,000 paratroopers conducting static line paradrops and glider landings into the Netherlands to seize and secure key bridges and terrain that would allow for entrance into Germany. During the operation, Allied Forces dealt with insurmountable odds and suffered great losses.
"It takes a man of a certain character to persevere in these conditions," said Maj. Gen. James Mingus, Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division. "As General Gavin often said, 'Show me someone that will jump out of an airplane, and I'll show you someone that'll fight.'"
Active duty members of the 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) both arrived in the Netherlands to attend the commemoration events and local festivities. Several WWII veterans of the 82nd and 101st also had the opportunity to visit these memorials and be recognized.
"People would come out and greet you. No other country had done this, but the Dutch people have," said Gene Metcalfe, a WWII veteran of the 82nd who was presented with the Orange Lanyard of the Order of William award, Sept. 18. "It's a pleasure to come back and meet the people, and to know that they haven't changed."
This operation was a landmark moment for one of the greatest alliances in history stated Gen. Richard D. Clarke, Commanding General of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Sept. 20, at the Waal River Crossing commemoration. He said he believed it was a partnership that was formed out of shared values and the hope that liberty could one day eradicate tyranny.
"Operation Market Garden, in the end, failed to achieve its specific objective, but if we look at it in hindsight, it achieved something far greater than the architects of this operation could have hoped," said Clarke. "For years the Allies have shown that they can fight together, but during Market Garden, we found proof that they were willing to fight and die for each other."
Despite the hardships that the Allied Forces endured during the operation, they succeeded in achieving freedom for many towns and villages across the Netherlands, an act that was far from forgotten by the Dutch.
"Few would have thought that this day would mark an unprecedented period of peace, freedom and prosperity for a region on this side of the world," said Hubert Bruls, the mayor of Nijmegen. "It is our duty to remember what happened, why it happened and the far-reaching consequences it had."
The Dutch continue to hold these commemorations every year. Bruls believes that this pivotal moment in history should be remembered more often.
"This is proof that something beautiful can come from something tragic," said Bruls. "Without the bravery of these young men, without their determination, courage, perseverance and sacrifices, we would not be here today."
These commemorations honor all Allied Forces that participated in the operation, especially the many American servicemen who remain at rest in the land they liberated.
"We will never forget how truly wonderful it is that all these American young men, who mostly did not speak our language and perhaps could hardly find our country on the map, had been prepared to cross an ocean to fight for our freedom," said Slinkman. "And when we commemorate Operation Market Garden today, our hearts are filled with gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice."