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Families bond with people tending graves

May 30, 2010

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In the emotional moments during her 2007 trip to a US military cemetery in Belgium, what struck Diane Pollard most was how picturesque the surroundings were, and how lovingly cared for.

“The cemetery was beautifully kept, and respectfully kept,’’ said Pollard, of Durham, N.H., daughter of the late Captain James Howard Hardy, who was killed at age 25 during the Battle of the Bulge. “You could tell that people remembered and cared about the sacrifices that were made.’’

That appreciation is shown in the “adoption’’ of US military gravesites by families who care for them, visit them, and lay flowers on them.

The custom began at Margraten at the end of World War II, at the Netherlands American Cemetery & Memorial, where all 8,301 graves were adopted by Dutch and Belgian families. Geraldine Conway Morenski, vice president of the American World War II Orphans Network, a support organization, said that in many cases, especially since the advent of the Internet, Dutch adopters have formed a close relationship with the family of their American soldier.

Similar programs can be found at World War II American cemeteries and memorials at Ardennes in Belgium, Henri-Chapelle in Belgium, and in Luxembourg, she said, though the Margraten program is the largest and oldest. (In fact, this weekend the trips of three US families are being sponsored by the Adoption Committee at Margraten).

The grave of Sergeant William G. Aubut of Tewksbury, at Margraten, was adopted by the Van den Brock family in 1946. Care of the grave has passed through the family, from parents to their daughter and her husband. A Van den Brock son was named William to honor the American soldier.

“What they told me many times is that’s their custom and they wouldn’t have it any other way,’’ said Donna LaPointe of Amesbury, Aubut’s daughter. “The soldiers were their liberators, and they wouldn’t have families and have any kind of a life it not for the soldiers. They’ll never forget it.’’

Morenski met Anneke and Leon Segers on a trip to Holland in 1985. Anneke was the sister of her boss at Digital Equipment Corp. In the course of conversation, she asked who had adopted the grave of Morenski’s father, Corporal David Conway of Lynn. Fearing that the adopter had died, Segers told her she would find out.

“She said, ‘I will take care of your father for you,’ ’’ Morenski recalled.

Pollard, whose father is buried at Henri-Chappelle, said the woman who adopted her father’s grave, Isabelle Engels, also has six other graves at the cemetery that she tries to visit several times each year.

“She said she did so because her father was a young boy during the war and remembers the American soldiers coming through the Belgian town he lived in, and he remembers the joyfulness of the liberation,’’ wrote Pollard in an e-mail. She “talks about her father’s admiration for our soldiers, which inspired her to adopt the gravesites.’’

David Rattigan

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