MAASTRICHT, Netherlands -- Thanks to Mr. van Grinsven, a Dutch Monk and an eyewitness to the Holy Mass held in the De Schark Caves Dec. 24, 1944, we can imagine what it was like for approximately 300 U.S. Soldiers who sought refuge there to celebrate Christmas Eve…

… and while ticket supplies last, US and NATO ID cardholders in the tri-border region are invited to participate in a Christmas Eve Service in the De Schark Caves, Maastricht, Dec. 24, 2011, 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. A bus shuttle service will transport participants to/from the cave site from a parking area between 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. with a return service after the ceremony from approximately 8:45 to 10p.m.

Tickets are issued on a first-come, first-serve basis from the USAG Schinnen Public Affairs Office where participants also will receive details about when and where to meet bus shuttles to the cave site. Tickets need to be picked-up in advance. Less than 120 tickets are available. For more information, call 0031-46-443-7331.

Christmas 1944

From his eyewitness account, Mr. van Grinsven said, "I remember when they fetched me to the cloister. We had to sit in a jeep. The lights were covered. We could barely see the road. While we were driving, we heard the air raid alarm. I was afraid. We drove up that silent road upon the hill that led to the cave. The American soldiers were already present. I was surprised that these rough men could be so faithful. The mass was very moving. I couldn't understand their English but I could somehow read their thoughts, their faces,… Who is going to survive? This might be my last Christmas," said Mr. van Grinsven, a Dutch Monk who sang in the choir.

A Christmas Eve ceremony has been held in the De Schark Caves every year since 1944 until 2005, when it was closed for repairs. Led by the coordinating efforts of Mr. Alphonse Brüll, Chairman of the Commemoration Board, the caves were made safe to resume the tradition 2010, but blizzard conditions forced the event to be cancelled until 2011.

De Schark Christmas Service 2011

The service in the 'grotto of De Schark' will recount how Father Dobrzinski, a priest from New York, led Christmas Mass there in 1944. Then, the caves had no electric lights but were the ideal refuge from aerial bombardment. Approximately 800 Soldiers were assigned in the Maastricht area in Dec. 1944 and went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

At the end of the 1944 Mass, the Soldiers wrote their names on the wall with charcoal, which is now a memorial to them and their faith. Participants in the 2011 service will be able to see this and other tributes carved into the cave's walls identifying names and units engaged Allied Operations in 1944.

The 2011 service will include three U.S. and one Dutch Military Service Members who will light candles in remembrance of Service Members who fell in the line of duty, rendering respect to them and to all those who have sacrificed.

As the candles are lit, the names of these service members will be part of a Roll Call: Pfc. Billey Abrams, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division; Staff Sgt. Glen Brady, 379th Bomber Group, Eighth Army Air Force; Pfc. Roy C. Ervin, 320th Infantry Regiment, 35 Infantry Division; Pfc. Raymond A. Hogan, 414th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division; Pfc. Jose L. Kline, 36th infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Division; Sgt. Richard J. Lowry, 406 Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division; Tech. Sgt. Kenneth C. McDonald, 466th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 17th Airborne Division; 2nd Lt. Clyde V. Proby, 119th Infantry Battalion, 30th Infantry Division; 1st Lt. Robert O. Stine, 401st Bomber Group, Eighth Army Air Force; Pfc. Henry Walker, 17th Engineer Battalion 2nd Armored Division; Staff Sgt. Grant E. Allen, 412th Bomber Squadron 95th Bomber Group; Pfc. David R. Diehl, 335th Infantry 84th Division; Pvt. Chin T. Tom, 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th ABN Division; Sgt. Raymond W. Fritzinger, 614th Bomber Squadron, 401st Bomber Group (H); and Pvt. Edward F. Keller, 407th Infantry 102nd Division.

All of these Service Members are buried or listed on the Wall of Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Netherlands, which is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission and where, today, all 8,301 U.S. graves and 1,722 names on the Wall of the Missing have been adopted by local Dutch citizens who pass on this privilege and responsibility from generation to generation.