When I launched my website, I started a World War II Research Collective. In this group are researchers around the world who specialize in WWII units, battles, theaters of war, or types of research. To help you get to know the researchers better, I’ll be doing some Q&A with them.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Eric Bijtelaar. I am 41 years old and live in Purmerend, a town near Amsterdam in The Netherlands. I have always been interested in World War II and wanted to learn as much as I could about the war.
In 2002, I adopted a grave at Margraten Cemetery and from that moment the researcher in me was “born.” I had all these questions about this person whose grave I adopted. How did he die? Are there still relatives around?
Around the same time I started with a new hobby, metal detecting. For 14 years now I have visited the previous battlefields to find traces of the battles that took place 70+ years ago.
As you can imagine, my collection grew into a small museum, and it was time to do something with these items and stories. I started a website, World War 2 Online. This was my first attempt to share my collection of artifacts and stories with a broader audience. Thanks to the website I received more stories and artifacts from veterans who really became close friends.
When and how did you become interested in World War II?
My interest in World War II started at the age of eight, when I learned about my grandfather’s service in the Dutch army and his clandestine activities during the German Occupation of the Netherlands. I received several artifacts belonging to my grandfather and uncle (documents, photos and small personal items.) With these stories and items, my curiosity was born and I wanted to learn more.
Many visits to the library followed and while reading about everything related to World War II, my interest turned into a hobby. All my friends and family knew I was collecting World War II memorabilia, and that brought more stories and items for the collection. Several years later I gathered a collection of uniforms, helmets, documents and photos, and created my own private museum.
Over the last four years, parts of the collection are being displayed twice a year in our local museum. My collection also appeared at the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in Hollerath. This year a big display will be created for the Military Weekend Hembrug at Zaandam, the Netherlands. The display will be an homage to the 99th Infantry Division and the Battle of the Bulge.
What is your main focus of research?
My main focus is the US army during WWII. I research German units as well but there is more demand for U.S. divisions research at the moment.
Why is this area of research important to you?
While I started searching the former battlefields with my metal detector I came in an area, which later I learned was the frontline from the 393rd Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. There I found many items belonging to U.S. Gis. With the help of friends and the National Archives, I managed to trace some of these veterans from the 99th and their relatives. Now, several years later, I am proud to say that I have several 99th Infantry Division veterans among my friends.
When I started my 99th Infantry Division website, I had in mind to make an everlasting digital monument for those brave men that gave so much for us to be able to live in freedom.
Have you met family members of soldiers you have researched? Do you have a story you can share about that?
I have weekly contact with a member of the 393rd Infantry Regiment, Frank Liddell. He and I became rather close friends. I am also friends with other members of the 99th and other Divisions.
I can share one nice story about a jacket, years ago I was looking at ebay for a uniform for the collection. I came across a nice IKE jacket which had a 101st airborne patch on it. I also saw that the jacket had a name written in it together with a laundry number in it (First letter of the last name together with the last four digits of the Army serial number.)
A quick search on google and I found out that the soldier in question was one of the original Band Of Brothers, Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, George L. Potter.
I became good friends with the son of George L. Potter and also other relatives from Easy Company soldiers.
Five years ago I found a canteen and I managed to trace the family of the veteran the canteen belonged to. The MIA team in Belgium helped me in identify the soldier and I sent the canteen back to the family.
Part of his story can be read here: The Canteen Connection. I have received many documents from his service and the story will be updated shortly.
What are your websites?
My main focus is the 99th Infantry Division and I created a website where I share stories and some of my research.
I also run a Facebook page which has more then 500 members
Twitter is something I do not use very often but that might change in the near future.
Is there anything else you would like people to know before they contact you
Every day we lose more and more veterans from WWII, and with them, their stories. If you would like to find out more about your WWII veteran please contact me and find out more about my research service. To make the research less time consuming it is important to share as much information up-front. Documents, photos and other items can help in connecting the dots, items like maps, regimental documents, promotions, discharge papers can help in searching for involvement in specific events.
My goal is to build the largest collection and archive of 99th Infantry Division.
Please contact me here email@example.com
© 2016 Jennifer Holik