A guest post written by Thulai van Maanen.
This week a platoon of Dutch engineers of the 103rd Constcoy faced snow and freezing temperatures in order to train for their upcoming winter training. Their goal: increase perseverance, cooperation and professionalism through long distance ruck marches, training drills and team building. One aspect of their exercise was a visit to the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten to raise awareness about the ultimate sacrifice every soldier might bring…somewhere…someday…
At this cemetery 8301 American service members are laid to rest while the Wall of Missing still contains 1.722 names. Since 1945 this cemetery has a unique connection with the Dutch, when local villagers started to adopt the war graves. Nowadays, all graves and all names on the Wall of Missing are adopted by people throughout the Netherlands. They often visit their adopted graves, take care of it and in many cases are in contact with relatives. There is even a waiting list for the adoption program.
After bearing a ruck march, the platoon was received by an employee of the American Battle Monument Commission who showed them around the cemetery for over an hour and a half. They were educated about the origins of the cemetery and the several battles that took place in the area during World War II. They paid extra attention to several graves including the grave of 2nd Lt Willis Utecht, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. Willis was only 22 years old when his platoon was operating in the vicinity of Mook. His company was assigned to advance on Katerbosch Hamlet where they encountered heavy German opposition. The only witness testimony concerning Willis’ fate was a member of his company who stated he heard him saying “My legs….my legs!’’ and that he died within 5 minutes probably due to internal bleeding because visible wounds were absent.
What happened next remains a mystery: Willis’ body was MIA until a farmer found his remains in 1993 while plowing his field. His remains were brought to Hawaii for identification and in August 1994 a positive ID on Willis was made. In September 1994 Willis was laid to rest with full military honors, in accompany of his relatives at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Willis’ grave stands lonely but solemn and marks a new row at the cemetery…….
The engineers continued their exercise after visiting the cemetery. With the legacy of these heroes and the inheritance of great examples in their minds, they continued their ruckmarch over a path of freedom that was paved by brave men like Willis….
© 2017 Thulai van Maanen & World War II Research and Writing Center