One of the groups I am collaborating with overseas is the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves. My friend Sebastiaan Vonk, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the work his foundation does and how American genealogists can help!
Introducing Sebastiaan Vonk and the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves
Tell us about your foundation, the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves.
What prompted you to start a foundation?
We had been active on the internet for several years, doing the work that we now also do as a foundation: helping grave adopters to find information on the soldiers whose graves they have adopted, creating memorial pages for thousands of U.S. WWII soldiers in our Fields of Honor – Database. However, being a foundation would open new doors to us and would therefore be beneficial to our mission. So after 4 years, we decided to go ahead and found a foundation.
When did you officially start it?
Our first website was set up in the summer of 2007. We officially became a foundation on July 30, 2011.
To put a face to the name of each and every one of the more than 45,000 U.S. soldiers who have been either buried in or memorialized at the Ardennes, Epinal, Henri-Chapelle, Lorraine, Luxembourg, and Netherlands American WWII cemeteries in Europe. We literally do this by finding their photos, which more than anything else, show who the people are whose names are inscribed on the white crosses and Stars of David, and on the Walls of the Missing.
We also aim to capture their life stories and to continue to tell them. After all, we are not concerned so much with numbers and other statistics. We simply want to recognize and honor every individual, and their families, who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. We want to thank them one by one. And thus we will continue our work, until we have been able to put a face to every soldier.
Who is part of the foundation?
At the core of this foundation is a group of 25 volunteers. It really is a diverse group of people. They come from Belgium and the Netherlands, Our youngest volunteer is a girl of 18-years old, the oldest is in his 70s. All of them have adopted a or multiple graves at these American cemeteries. It is great to work with this group and to see so many youth continue to express interest. Moreover, we are very appreciate of all the help of grave adopters, soldiers’ families, genealogists, and other researchers. They have submitted an incredible amount of information over the past years, helping us to put a face to even more soldiers.
What projects do you have in the foundation?
Our primary projects are the Fields of Honor – Database and The Faces of Margraten tribute. The former is an online database that has over 24,000 memorial pages. The database offers some basic information on these soldiers: where did they come from, how old were they, where did they serve, where were they killed, etc. The pages also include photos when available. The latter reflects more than anything our mission. The Faces of Margraten puts literally a face to the names of the 10,023 soldiers buried or memorialized in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, the Netherlands by decorating their graves or names on the Walls of the Missing with a personal photo. During the second edition of the tribute in 2016, about 4,100 photos were on display.
Do you collaborate with other groups in the Netherlands or elsewhere? Who? Why
Yes, we are happy to work with many other organizations. For example, with the organizations that maintain the Adopt-A-Grave programs in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Not only because the adopters of these graves are often willing to share the information that they have on the soldiers whose graves they have adopted, but also to share the information with them, as many adopters would like to know more about “their” soldiers. But we also work with other organizations like the American Battle Monuments Commission and groups in the Netherlands to share the concept of The Faces of Margraten.
What are your plans or hopes for the future of the foundation?
In addition to hoping that we can share the concept behind The Faces of Margraten tribute, we will also work, wherever possible with others, on building a new database. We really hope that can we can tell richer stories about these soldiers in this new database. I think we should look at this as an archive that will have a file on every soldier with all kinds of information, documents, photos, etc. At the same time, we hope to offer more information about their units, the planes they flew in, etc. to give readers a bit of contextual information, or at least direct readers to where they can find more information. It will take a while to develop this database, but once it is ready, we hope to be more capable to preserve everything that is out there, to make sure it is not lost, and to present what we have in new ways.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Much information is available on the internet, but much information is also tucked away in archives and in boxes in the houses of families. We appreciate any help in unlocking that information as well. In general, we welcome any information on these men and women. We hope that many will join us in our mission. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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