Road to Freedom

76th D-DAY Remembrance on Omaha Beach

The view from just above “Omaha Beach”

This year’s remembrance events were unfortunately canceled. I have posted here some shots taken last year from the sunrise memorial ceremony which took place on Omaha beach near Vierville-sur-Mer at the exact time of the landings there 75 years ago.

Above: Sunrise over Omaha beach near Vierville-sur-Mer and below a picture taken at water’s edge during the memorial ceremony given by the local priest.

Celebrating 75 Years of Freedom in 2095

Downtown Rotterdam after the war had ended in 1945

2020 was to be the year to celebrate 75 years of freedom.  This year, as well as last, numerous celebrations and remembrances were planned and many indeed took place to remind us of the events, atrocities and sacrifice that started 80 years ago in May 1940, when the German army invaded the Netherlands. The Dutch army was quickly defeated resulting in 1818 days of occupation that lasted until the same German army surrendered on May 5th 1945. The NOS(news program Netherlands Public Broadcasting) has been spectacular these past few weeks in reminding everyone about the last days of the war, what we were fighting for, with a special nightly “news” broadcast, a 2020 nightly news approach on the last days of the war in 1945.   

But maybe the most vivid reminder for the reasons to celebrate freedom is to have it taken away again, which is exactly what Covid 19 has succeeded in doing.  On a national level, every major celebration event planned in April and May, to celebrate 75 years of freedom has been either scaled down to exclude the public attending or simply canceled out of fear to spread the effects of the virus even further despite an intelligent lockdown. I will spare you the details, i.e the long list of simple everyday life events, which are currently forbidden or require taking extra caution when doing for one’s own safety and for others.

The only parallel I’m drawing between the Covid 19 crisis today and the German army occupation of the Netherlands 80 years ago, is that the Dutch are in both cases waging a war, but this time on a virus. Our current occupying virus forces have no political ideology nor an agenda. That too can be said about the approach of the Dutch government, but unfortunately elsewhere….not so much. If only there was a vaccine for acting only in one’s own political interests at the cost of…..our health.

Our front lines are occupied by the heroes in our health care system. Yes, you too can be patriotic as well and join the resistance. How? Stay home.  I have to admit that statement does not sound heroic, so I’ll modernize it.

How about: #stayhome. That maybe works better for Google analytics generation, although I doubt Netflix will make a series out of doing nothing and staying home. Besides, that’s been done already with Seinfeld.

Still, when my future grandchild asks me, “where were you when the virus war broke out grandpa”, I can proudly say, “well, I was staying at home, watching Netflix on that couch right over there. Come take a look. See that stain there. Now, if it could talk……” Again, not very heroic, but not spreading any virus either.

At any rate, I hope the “Covid 19 virus” occupation lasts less than 1818 days! Because I just realized, we don’t have Netflix yet. Time to buy my modern day war bonds….I mean subscribe to Netflix, online of course.

On a more serious note, I hope we take a page from the Tokyo summer olympics or even the 2020 European Song festival, which would have been held this week in Rotterdam. Same time…next year.

75 Years Ago Today – January 23rd 1945

There are at least 363 stories to be told about the fallen British soldiers buried in the British war cemetery located in Nederweert, the Netherlands. The one story told by Liberation Route below concerns Corporal Henry Eric Harden – 45th Royal Marine Commandos, who fell in battle 75 years ago today, while attempting to rescue several of his fellow wounded commandos, even after he himself had been wounded in battle.

75 years ago today, on January 23rd, 1945, Corporal Henry Eric Harden, fell in battle while atempting to rescue several of his fellow wounded British commandos. He is buried in the Britsh war cemetery located in Nederweert, the Netherlands, alongside 362 of his other fallen comrades

Here is Corporal Harden’s story:

217. Risking his life

On the 23rd of January 1945, Operation Blackcock, the Allied operation to expel German troops from the Ruhr Triangle between Roermond, Sittard and Heinsberg, has already been fiercely fought for over a week. After heavy fighting in the village of St. Joost the German forces have retreated behind the Vlootbeek between Maasbracht and Linne. They have set up an observation post in the Linne windmill.

In the morning of the 23rd of January 1945, marines of the British 1st Commando Brigade advance on Maasbracht and Brachterbeek. The streets are empty and it is eerily quiet. They soon reach the centre of Maasbracht. They then decide to push on towards the station and the Vlootbeek. A few minutes later, all hell breaks loose and the British come under heavy mortar and machinegun fire.

A few days earlier in the battle for St. Joost, the feared German paratroopers of Kampfgruppe Hübner paratroopers had suffered a defeat and, with those still able to fight, they have entrenched themselves behind the Vlootbeek and in the windmill.

The men of the 45th Royal Marine Commandos seek cover in the open field. They lie in the ice-cold snow and some are wounded.

From the first aid station, 32-year-old Corporal Henry Eric Harden sees the wounded cannot move forward or back. Risking his life, Henry Eric Harden recues one of the wounded from the field but is himself wounded in the process. He goes back twice out into the field to save the wounded men. For Henry Eric Harden, the attempt to save Lieutenant Corey proves to be fatal.

Eric Harden and his fallen comrades are placed in temporary grave in an orchard on the Kloosterstraat in Maasbracht. A year later, they are transferred to their final resting place, the British Military War Cemetery in Nederweert.

Please click on the link below to see this heroic story and others on the Liberation Route website plus additional pictures of Corporal Henry Eric Harden provided by Mr. Harden’s family to Liberation Route:

Almost Two Months on the Front…Total Freedom at last for Nederweert

After literally being on the front line for almost 60 days, given my father-in-law’s parents farm’s location bordered on the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal, the entire municipality of the village my wife’s parents, Nederweert, and later where my wife grew up, was finally freed on November 20th as part of Operation Nutcracker. Led by the British army the operation’s objective was to expel the Germans from the various bridgeheads located between the Peel and the Maas river and in essence shift the front to the Maas. The entire operation lasted from November 14th, 1944 to December 3rd, 1944.

While Nederweert is free at last after 1650 days of German army occupation, the majority of the Dutch population is not.

Nederweert is liberated on September 21st, the entire municipality only in late November

No movie has ever been made, nor are the battles surrounding Nederweert even famous in the Netherlands, but it is the city where my wife’s family is from, since at least the late 1700s.

“Hot chocolate” were some of the first English words my mother-in-law could remember she learned from the American soldiers staying in their barn out back in the fall of 1944. She was nine years old then. No one in the family spoke English, but they figured out quick enough what the U.S. soldiers were asking for by the gestures they were making.  

I say “fall” because her village, Nederweert, was literally the front line that separated the allies from the German army from September 21st until the entire municipality of Nederweert was finally liberated on November 20th.

My father-in-law also grew up in Nederweert. He was eleven years old back in September 1944.   As you can see below, his parent’s farm was located on the actual front line, as their property bordered the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal. The house itself was about 100 meters from the canal. They lived less than a mile north of bridge 15.

From September 21st, 1944 until November 20th, my father-in-law’s family house in Nederweert was located circa 100 meters from the front line, the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal; the Germans were dug in on the east side.

Early on the morning of September 22nd, at 4:12 a.m. according to a local resident who kept a diary, the German soldiers blew up bridge #15, which crossed the Zuid-Williamsvaart canal that separated Nederweert from Budschop.  Before leaving Nederweert, the soldiers stole everything that moved including cars, bikes, horse drawn carriages. My wife’s uncle, the younger brother of her mother, was only five at the time, but even he remembers that they hid one of the family’s horses so that it would not be stolen.

The Germans on September 20th, 1944, retreating across bridge #15, which is located between Nederweert and Budschop; taking with them anything they could…cars, bikes, horse drawn carriages…..

And while the Germans no longer occupied Nederweert, the fighting only intensified, given the allies set up their artillery on the Kerkstrat(Church street) to strike the dug-in German positions located just over the canal in Budschop.

The St. Lambertus church tower was used by the allies as a lookout post and it paid the price as part of the tower was destroyed.  

Getting back to my wife’s family; St. Lambertus was the church she attended as a child, where she did her communion at the age of 8 and where we were married almost 50 years after the fall 0f 1944.

The “Tommies” were the first allied soldiers to liberate Nederweert in September 1944. They were followed-up by the Americans, who in turn fought here for several weeks, before they were relieved by a Scottish brigade.

Nederweert is also the last resting place for 363 British soldiers from various battles.

British Military cemetery located in Nederweert, the final resting place for 363 fallen soldiers.
Corporal William Birleson, from London, died in battle near Vlierden on September 23rd, 1944.
Inscription at the entrance of the British Military Cemetery located in Nederweert, the Netherlands

Mesch was the first city to be liberated in the province Limburg on September 12th; Nederweert on September 21st, day # 1590 of the German occupation of the Netherlands, the entire Nederweert municipality only on November 20th , day # 1650, and finally the Dutch cities, Roermond and Venlo, located near the Dutch/German border, on March 3rd 1945. The entire province of Limburg was finally liberated on day # 1753 of the occupation.

“Welkom in Holland”

With these words, Sjef Warnier, a school headmaster from Mesch, greeted the first U.S. soldier from the 30th “Old Hickory” U.S. army division he met that liberated his home town Mesch on September 12th, 1944.  

And the U.S. soldier responded, thinking they were still in Belgium, “Oh, are we in the Netherlands???  Well, if we are in the Netherlands then you are the first Dutchman liberated.”  

Sjef’s first to freedom story was re-told by his two sons, Jacques and Pierre, recently on a Dutch program dedicated to how the southern part of the Netherlands was liberated, including Mesch, after a short skirmish with the last remaining German soldiers. This meant that of the circa 8,8 million inhabitants of occupied Netherlands and the 250 villagers of Mesch, Sjef Warnier, became the first Dutch civilian to be liberated late in the morning on September 12th. And Mesch was the first Dutch village freed, followed later in the same day by Noorbeek.

The village of Mesch may not have been in the U.S. military planning to be liberated that day, but Sjef being Dutch, and he would not have been Dutch if he had not taken the opportunity, also became the first Dutch person to start free trade with America again. He made a deal with a U.S. soldier; an ink well set for a pack of Raleigh cigarettes.

Mesch is located in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. It is about 10 kilometers from Margraten, where the Netherlands American Military Cemetery and memorial is located. 8291 American soldiers are buried here in the only cemetery in the Netherlands dedicated to U.S. servicemen.

Starting early September there will be several memorial celebrations held in Margraten over a two-week period. On September 12th some of our remaining heroes will take part in a memorial service commemorating the 75th anniversary.

September 12th, 1944 was day # 1581 of Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands. The first 250 Dutch citizens, out of circa 8,8 million, have been freed. Now there are 225 days to go until the entire country is liberated on May 5th 1945.

Remember the Battle of the Scheldt

The official season of 75-year celebrations in the Netherlands began yesterday, August 31st, with a visit by King Willem Alexander to the city of Terneuzen. The actual battle for the Scheldt estuary began on October 6th. The strategic objective was to clear out the 6 German divisions stationed on both sides of the Scheldt. Once the Germans were defeated, the port city of Antwerp, which was captured on September 4th 1944, could actually be used by the allies as a logistics center to supply the allied armies. Up until now the majority of supplies were still coming in via Normandy. It was vital to shorten this key supply line.

The battle for the Scheldt estuary, while key, is an almost forgotten battle when compared to Operation Market Garden and D-Day. It was in fact the failure at Market Garden that helped turn the allies attention to freeing the Scheldt estuary from the German army. To find out more about this battle:

Mesch’s freedom on September 12th 1944, the first city to be freed in the Netherlands,  is only 12 days away. August 31st, 1944 was day # 1569 of the German occupation of the Netherlands.

A 75th Anniversary to Remember but not to Celebrate

In 2019 and 2020 there will countless 75th anniversary memorials or celebrations in remembrance of world war II. One which may slip under the radar could be the 75th anniversary of Anne Frank’s arrest on August 4th 1944. She was arrested along with nine other Jewish “Onderduikers”, including her sister Margot and her parents, while hiding in the secret annex located behind the house they took refuge in on Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam. Only her father Otto survived the war.

Anne’s arrest took place on day# 1542 of the German occupation of the Netherlands, 39 days before the first Dutch city was liberated on September 12th. She died in Bergen-Belsen some 6 months later at the end of February; the exact date almost 75 years later is still unknown.

Terrorist Newspapers and Magazines Go Mainstream

Admittingly this headline may be a bit over the top, but I had no idea that respected Dutch newspapers like Trouw, Het Parool as well as magazines like Vrij Nederland all originally started out as underground “resistance’’ publications during world war two.

Here is the June 19th publication which announced the successful D-Day invasion

Successful given in the section titled, Als De Amerikanen Komen(When the Americans Come) they explain that the Americans may arrive later in June or later in the summer they explain in this section the different insignias, the meaning of the emblems on the uniforms and what military rank they represent. Turns out they were right regarding the summer because as pointed out in my last blog the first Dutch city. Mesch, was liberated on September 12th 1944, now only 84 days away(from June 19th) yet still an eternity back then.

Normandy American Cemetery

Overlooking Omaha Beach the Normandy American Cemetery is located in Colleville-sur-Mer.  The cemetery site was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II.  It serves as a resting spot for those soldiers who paid the ultimate price for peace as it contains the graves of more than 9,380 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. It is one of many permanent American World War II military cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission(ABMC) outside of the United States.  For more information:

Here Rests In Honored Glory A Comrade In Arms Known But To God
Some 9380 fallen soldiers are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha Beach
In the video below Taps is performed during at ceremony held at the Normandy American Cemetery in June 2019

Taps is performed during a ceremony – Normandy American Cemetery June 2019

75th Anniversary – First Allied Step to Freedom for the Netherlands: D-Day Invasion in Normandy

Sunrise on Omaha Beach celebrating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The successful D-Day invasion was the first step on the road to freedom for the Netherlands. It took place on day number 1485 of Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands.

At that time no one knew that less than one year later, some 332 days of battle, on May 5th 1945 all of the Netherlands would be officially liberated.

Some Dutch cities were more fortunate than others.

On Sept 12th, 1944, some 98 days after the D-Day invasion, Mesch, the first village in the Netherlands was freed by the American 30th infantry division. It is located in the province Limburg.

Also, the first municipality Norbeek, was liberated by the 30th infantry division on September 12th, 1944. Later Norbeek became officially part of the Margraten municipality, where the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is located.

Led by a recently restored Sherman tank, thank you UNIVEM, a parade of allied military vehicles took place on Omaha beach along the boulevard de Cauvigny in Vierville-sur-Mer to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion

Should you be interested, in reading further posts, we will be following the allies progress to free the Netherlands;  starting from the D-day invasion in Normandy to German capitulation on May 5th 1945 in the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen, about 10 miles(17 km) due west of Arnhem.

The hotel still exists today. My room is booked! And the address is:  5 Mei Plein 1 (May 5th square…where else could it be!)

Suggestions for your D-Day Speech Mr. President

Later this week President Trump will have the honor to follow in the footsteps of several previous presidents who have spoken during the D-day ceremonies.  Now President Trump has not asked me for my advice for his speech, and I’m certainly no expert on getting my point across in 15 words or less, but still I’m willing to give my advice to the president for free anyway.

But before we get to my suggestions, perhaps it makes sense to understand first what President Trump’s predecessors had communicated. Let’s start with General Eisenhower’s D-Day statement to his troops:

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” These were the first words of his D-day statement to soldiers, sailor, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. They speak for themselves.

Ten years later in 1955 President Eisenhower spent D-day with his family at Camp David. The consequences of the decisions he took before and during D-Day and the effects they had on so many lives still weighing heavily on his shoulders. He issued a simple statement in Washington DC, that included the following, That combined land-sea-air operation was made possible by the joint labors of cooperating nations. It depended for its success upon the skill, determination and self-sacrifice of men from several lands. It set in motion a chain of events which affected the history of the entire world.”

It was not until the 40th anniversary in 1984 that the first U.S. president actually spoke at the D-day ceremonies. Then the great communicator, Ronald Reagan, at ceremonies held near Omaha Beach at Pointe-du-Hoc proclaimed, “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” Reagan immediately set the bar high for future presidents and all of them except Bush Sr. have indeed spoken at D-day ceremonies since.

President Reagan, giving his remembrance speech held at Pointe-Du Hoc during the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984. He was the first U.S. president to speak at a D-Day event in Normandy.

So, with all of this relevant history for reference here are my suggestions to President Trump regards his speech:

Meet expectations – This should be easy. No one and I truly mean no one expects you to reach the level Reagan did, or for that matter any of the other Presidential speeches given.  The expectation bar has thus been set to the appropriate level.

Let’s be honest. The press and all the talk show political pundits, except perhaps some of FOX news staff, are no longer expecting you to act presidential all the time.  You gotta be you, right. At 70, you is what you is. Just please do not forget that today is not about you so….

Stay on Point-du-Hoc – actually the main ceremonies will be held at the Normandy American Cemetery, but the thought here is, is that your speech should not be about your success or your administration with heavy emphasis on the first part of this statement. So, don’t go off script and talk about the recent tax cut or threaten to close the border with Mexico or, keeping Reagan’s 1985 visit to Bitburg cemetery in mind, state that there were fine soldiers on both sides. Ok, Reagan never said that either.

And after you have given your speech, no tweeting about Chuck and Nancy while other world leaders are still speaking.

Love the ones you’re with….Thank your friends that were there in 44, throughout the war and are attending today’s ceremonies. This means no suggesting that your friend Kim Jong-un is the great supreme leader or reminding all in attendance that Macron’s party lost the recent European election, that Teresa May is having to leave office because she did not follow your advice…your stable genius you…remember this event is not about you. Sorry, but someone needed to tell you this.  All the adults in your administration have evidently been asked to leave already.

No late fee fines or cost re-calculation references – so while you certainly had a valid point on sharing NATO costs fairly, now near Juno Beach on D-day,  is not the time to bring that up again. So please do not hand out any NATO related invoices either before, during or after your speech to the other world leaders attending from our WW II allies or, even if they are not present, to Germany and Japan, as they are some of our strongest allies today thanks in part to the Marshall Plan.

No, the Marshall Plan was not a loan with an unusually long-term payback plan. There was payback, but not just in dollars.  Let’s call it a 75-year-old…and counting… world war free peace dividend.

No comic relief – you may not want to repeat the instantly classic lines you gave during your speech at the United Nations, “In less than 2 years my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America…so true…did not expect that reaction” …. judging by the UN audience’s reaction comic gold yes, and your punchline delivery was impeccable, but perhaps not the right message given the occasion.

Also keep in mind that this is not a red state stump speech. Macron is not the leader of Paris, Texas. The Democrats are human too, and if memory serves me well, one of them, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was president during the allied invasion in Normandy.  You might want to remember to thank FDR and yes, it is too late to give FDR a nickname.

Over/under Vegas line is +/- 30– Please hold the embellishments, half-truths, etc. down to a minimum(…it’s only a 15-minute speech at most…so no more than two a minute should be doable).  

Twenty years from now…a too long-term vision perspective perhaps…ok…let’s try again….on the first Tuesday of November next year, you want people to remember your speech, your message, and not Kellyanne’s explanation of what you meant or Sarah sparring with Jim Acosta on CNN over and over again that that this was the biggest crowd ever at a Normandy memorial speech event. Never thought I’d say that I miss former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer.

And above all…most important point in fact and I should have started with this suggestion first, thank all of those who fought, honor their service, be respectful and remind us all of their sacrifices, and also those of the Holocaust and all the other victims and the lessons learned and applied after the war that have led to 75 years without a third world war. And if you do it well, you can take more than 15 words on this to make this point strong, there will be few if any snide remarks from the press about your pre-existing bone-spur condition medical records. By the way you’re covered, right? They will be thinking it, but they probably won’t write about it.

Now to be fair and balanced Mr. President, my suggestions are not from someone who has your 2020 campaign interests in mind. There I admit it. I am not part of your base. But on the 75th anniversary of D-Day I truly do want you however to succeed in representing the interest of all Americans and the world as well.

So, if you prefer, forget all of my suggestions and follow the advice your friend Tom Brady probably would give to you, “just do your job”.  Honor the veterans, honor all those who sacrificed, tell the truth, show respect for your office and for those that held it before you and by all means thank our friends and our allies for, we will need them…again and again…in the future as history has already shown. You catch more allies with honey then with invoices as my mom used to say.  Editors note: she never really said that.

Do all this…and I swear many will say you were presidential…that is…until you send your first self-congratulatory tweet or mention that your speech was much better than any speech Hillary would have made. The over/under time line in Vegas on this is 10 minutes.

75th Anniversary – D-day –  We Remember – Normandy American Cemetery – Colleville-sur-Mer

An old college friend posted on Linkedin his plans online to come to Normandy to, in his words ”re-trace my father’s WW2 D-Day experience”…during the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We’ll be there.

This may be the last opportunity to honor the remaining service men and women who sacrificed so much.

Before D-Day there was May 14th 1940 – Rotterdam

D-day June 6th 1944 is also an important historical date known by the Dutch. It provided hope; it meant freedom was coming. Yet, in the Netherlands, May 10th, 1940 is certainly a date that stirs more emotions as it is the date when Germany invaded.

And for Rotterdammers, 4 days later, May 14th, 1940 will be a date never to be forgotten, given circa 80% of the historical city center was destroyed, the results of 13 minutes of bombing starting at 13:27 in the afternoon.

 St. Laurens church, picture above in 1940, has been rebuilt.
On the right Markthal(Market Hall) was completed in 2014 and as you can see is located near St.Laurens church.

As the city of Utrecht was the next city target in line, the Dutch capitulated the following day. Almost 5 years of occupation began.

Last month I attended two 79th remembrance ceremonies commemorating the May 14th bombing of Rotterdam.

Pictured above Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb delivering the May 14th remembrance speech
Above the house where the Dutch actually agreed to capitulate on May 14th, 1940 at 13:00 in the afternoon, less than 30 minutes before the first bombs fell.
Pictured above the statue “De Verwoeste Stad” (Destroyed city) by Ossip Zadkine. Located downtown at Plein 1940, it symbolizes Rotterdam’s destruction from above, the heart/soul of the city being ripped out. It was presented to the city in 1953.