By Mr. Dave Melancon (Europe)October 28, 2009
FRANKFURT - Members of the U.S. Army Europe and Heidelberg military community remembered 178 service members' children interred in Frankfurt's main cemetery during a national Make A Difference Day project here Oct. 24.
"These are the little ones who were left behind, and today we are taking care of them," Norma Ewers, Heidelberg's Army Community Service volunteer coordinator, told the volunteers before beginning the beautification and maintenance project.
The 50 volunteers included Heidelberg area Boy, Girl and Venture Scouts and their parents, a squad of Soldiers from the community's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, members of the Heidelberg KONTAKT Club, garrison civilian employees and Soldiers.
The project included digging moss and scrubbing 178 grave markers and the site's main monument, trimming weeds, planting flowers, and clearing debris from the site. For their last task in the five-hour long project, the volunteers placed miniature American flags between each of the markers.
Frankfurt was home to a large military community until the 1990s, and the children buried in the Kinderfeld are these of U.S. service members, Ewers said.
"They are either newborn or stillborn buried here between 1966 and 1986," she told the volunteers. "Unfortunately at that time, the government did not allow these parents to take the remains of their children home."
When there was a U.S. military presence in Frankfurt, members of the community regularly maintained the grave site, she said. The site has been neglected since about 1989.
There is some doubt about the site's long-term future, Ewers said. In Germany, grave sites are rented, not owned.
"The graves here are not kept forever," she explained. "You have to pay rent for these plots. In 2013, if the lease is not renewed, they are going to be removed."
Ewers, who served in Frankfurt as a Soldier, said she is working to find long-term financial support for the site.
There is another American Children's Cemetery in the Kaiserslautern community, maintained by the Kaiserslautern Kindergraves Memorial Foundation and community volunteers, she said. There is no organization or other volunteers maintaining or financially supporting the Frankfurt Kinderfeld.
The garrison's Directorate of Public Works provided tools, said Sgt. 1st Class Greg Pitre as he scraped the moss from a child's grave stone. "We signed everything out of the Self-Help store, put it in my van, and here we are."
The Kinderfeld project was part of the Heidelberg BOSS programs' 20th anniversary observance said Spc. William Perkins, Heidelberg program president.
BOSS members are continuously volunteering in their communities, he said. Giving back to the U.S. and German communities is one of the components of the program along with improving single service members' quality of life programs and participating in leisure activities.
"It is definitely important that when we move to different stations that we take care areas like this," Perkins said. "These are family members who are important to other people within our service. The upkeep of their burial ground is very important."
According to USA Today Weekend Magazine, Make a Difference Day is "the largest national day of helping others." The magazine began the program 19 years ago and is supported by volunteer groups and charitable organizations. The annual event takes place on the fourth Saturday in October.
To learn more about the American Kinderfeld in Frankfurt, visit http://user.icx.net/~richmond/rsr/kinderfeldfrankfurt.html.
For information about volunteer opportunities, explore the U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg Army Volunteer Corps Coordinator Web page at www.heidelberg.army.mil/volunteer.html.
More information about U.S. Make a Difference Day can be found at www.usaweekend.com/diffday/aboutmadd.html.