WIESBADEN, Germany - Neither rain nor the first snowfall of the season could stop the Boy Scouts and Army volunteers from attending to Frankfurt's littlest Americans who were laid to rest up to four decades ago. These volunteers gathered at the American Children's Cemetery (in German, the Amerikanisches Kinderfeld) in Frankfurt Oct. 27 to care for the small area which holds the remains of 178 American children.
Boy Scouts from Wiesbaden's Troop 65 and volunteers from the Heidelberg military community, including Heidelberg Boy Scout Troop 1, Campbell Barrack's U.S. Army Europe G4 organizations, Heidelberg Teen Life and Army Community Service gathered with gardening tools in hand and flowers to help beautify the graves and monument on the United States' national day of service, "Make a Difference Day."
"I learned about this cemetery from a news story on AFN four years ago," Norma Ewers, Heidelberg ACS volunteer coordinator and coordinator of the community service project, explained to the volunteers. "The report talked about the children's cemetery in Kaiserslautern and mentioned that there is one in Frankfurt as well. And since Frankfurt is close to us, I wanted to see if we could help."
Ewers found information about the cemetery and its location on a website.
"The cemetery was overgrown and you couldn't see the graves for all the weeds," she said. "No one had been maintaining the cemetery for many years."
On this day of service, the volunteers held a flag ceremony, raked leaves, cleared weeds and overgrowth, and cleaned the grave markers. They placed small U.S. flags at each grave and colorful chrysanthemums at the foot of the cemetery monument. The extreme weather kept them from doing more, but they vowed to return at a later date.
From 1966-1986, when American armed forces in Frankfurt numbered in the thousands, children who died upon birth or in infancy were buried in the American Children's Cemetery. Also known as the American Kinderfeld, it is located in Frankfurt's main cemetery on Eckenheimer Landstrasse and was at one time jointly maintained by Americans and Germans. The oldest child buried there was 4 years old.
The cemetery exists because the military policy decades ago did not allow repatriation of deceased children to the United States. Families had to bury their children at the local cemetery. One of Ewer's hopes is to see families of these children learn their child's final resting place is still being cared for.
"A volunteer who was helping us a few years ago found his daughter's grave here," said Ewers.
She found information online posted by Bob Richmond, a 1955 alumnus of Kaiserslautern American High School now living in Tennessee. Richmond maintains a website about the Kinderfeld which includes the names of children buried there. (He also maintains a website about the American children's cemetery in Kaiserslautern.) Over the years Richmond has received emails from some of those children's mother or fathers, many expressing gratitude that the cemetery has not been forgotten.
Due to the future closing of the Heidelberg military facilities, Ewers contacted Wiesbaden Boy Scout Troop 65 to help carry on the work, and the Scouts and adult leaders mobilized to help. Her main concern was passing on the care of the Kinderfeld to other groups and verifying if the lease on the Kinderfeld expired in 2013, and if so, how could it be renewed. Troop 65 took this service project on board and its leaders researched the lease with the Frankfurt Hauptfriedhof. A few inquiries led to the good news that the American Kinderfeld lease will never expire: the cemetery itself remains a memorial to the American children interred there.
Cemeteries in Germany are not the literal final resting place of the deceased like in the US. Grave sites in Germany are leased by families for a specific time period, usually 15-30 years, which can be renewed. Leases which are not renewed will see the grave contents removed and graves reused.
Not to let a little weather outdo them, the Boy Scouts returned to the Kinderfeld Nov. 12 to finish what they started. They again cleared leaves and weeds, pruned shrubs, and planted the flowers leftover from their first sleety visit. They scrubbed the weather-stained grave markers and began scraping the mossy growth from the engraved lettering. Realizing that cleaning the markers was too big a job for one occasion, they came away determined to do more at the next clean-up in the spring.
"I think our work at Kinderfeld is a great deed that the troop will continue as long as we are able to," said Nathaniel Curtis, senior patrol leader for Troop 65. "It's also a great way for our scouts to get service hours, and I hope they enjoy doing it."
Anyone wishing to learn more about Frankfurt's little American cemetery can find additional information at Bob Richmond's Kinderfeld website (http://user.icx.net/~richmond/rsr/kinderfeldfrankfurt.html) or the Frankfurt American Kinderfeld Facebook page.