BRUNSSUM, Netherlands –
The American Battle Monuments Commission operates and maintains permanent American cemeteries and memorials in 17 foreign countries around the world. These ABMC sites commemorate the service and sacrifice of Americans who served in World War I and World War II and are among the most beautiful and meticulously maintained sites in the world.
The only U.S. cemetery and memorial site in the Netherlands is located at Margraten. Here, 8,288 U.S. fallen service members and an additional 1,722 missing in action are honored. But unique only to this cemetery is its connection with the Dutch people. Since 1945, members of the local community have adopted the grave sites at the cemetery, and to this day they honor the U.S. service members buried there by placing flowers at their grave sites and researching their lives.
Danny Janssen is one of those Dutch people who puts much time and effort into paying due respects and honoring the Americans who helped liberate his country from Nazi occupation.
Janssen, who is a supervisor at Logistics Readiness Center Benelux in Brunssum, 405th Army Field Support Brigade, is one of the volunteer caretakers at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.
Responsible for supervising the Drivers Testing and Training Station and the Transportation Motor Pool at Brunssum during the weekdays, Janssen spends many weekends at the cemetery helping with maintenance and area beautification.
“I’m one of many Dutch people who have adopted the grave sites of fallen U.S. service members at Margraten,” Janssen said.
“All these graves are adopted by the Dutch,” Janssen said. “After the war ended, the Dutch people said ‘you know what – we’re going to take care of these fallen American heroes.’”
Janssen, himself, is intimately familiar with service to country. He served in the Dutch Army as a Soldier for 11 years and was a driving instructor and then first sergeant at the Dutch Military Academy. And for the past 20 years he’s served as a Dutch Ministry of Defense civilian employee with the U.S. Army, first assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Benelux’s Directorate of Logistics and then to LRC Benelux, 405th AFSB.
Janssen said every year he and other Dutch citizens in his group sponsor and hold a biannual event at the Netherlands American Cemetery. In addition, the group collects photos of the U.S. fallen. To date, more than 3,000 photos are on display next to headstones and the Walls of the Missing during their events, bringing visitors face-to-face with the U.S. liberators who sacrificed their lives for freedom.
Jack B. Hunter is Janssen’s adopted U.S. Soldier. A technician 5th grade assigned to the Army’s 138th Engineer Combat Battalion who hailed from Mississippi and died Aug. 20, 1945, Hunter is buried at Plot P, Row 7, Grave 2. Janssen said he has visited his grave site more times than he can count.
Like many of the Dutch people in his group, Janssen brings flowers to the cemetery, and his flowers always go to Hunter. Janssen has also done quite a lot of research on Hunter, as have most of the other Dutch members in his group for their adopted U.S. service members. Today, the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery Margraten manages the overall program.
“I tell his story to as many people as I can. Jack Hunter and all the U.S. military personnel buried at Margraten deserve that. They are heroes,” said Janssen, who is from Heerlen, Netherlands, about 12 miles from Margraten and five miles from Brunssum.
“I always place flowers at his grave on his birthday, on Memorial Day and the day he sacrificed his life for our freedom. I feel obligated. It’s how I was born and raised,” Janssen said.
To learn more about the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten, go to www.abmc.gov/netherlands, and to find out more about the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery Margraten, go to www.adoptiegraven-margraten.nl.