A Memorial Day Story

by Free Speech on May 30, 2011

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

This story begins over 70 years ago when a young Waterbury man named James Blake decided to enlist in the US Army to fight in WWII. It ends this Sunday when I see his final resting place at the American War Cemetery at Margraten in the Netherlands.

Private First Class Blake had a sister named Pat who lived in Waterbury back in the 40’s and still does today. I met her when I was an Officer with the Waterbury Police. Pat was one of those Waterbury people who are just unforgettable.

Getting on in years, she is still full of energy and good will. She is extremely proud of her country as a whole, and Waterbury in particular. Look up patriot in the dictionary. You’ll see her picture.

My first contact with Pat was in the form of a card she wrote back in 2003 when I was in Iraq with the US Army. It was addressed, “Lt. Col. McGrew, US Army, Somewhere in Iraq or the Persian Gulf.” The military postal service, for all its flaws, somehow got the card to me.

Years later, when I mentioned to her that I was retiring from the police department and moving to Holland, she invited me out to lunch. She’s that type of person.

During lunch, I mentioned that there was an American Military Cemetery in Holland. She replied, “I know. My brother Jimmy is buried there.”

It was one of those unexpected moments in life—a connection with a person and place that you never saw coming.

All overseas American military cemeteries are very special places. The cemetery at Margraten is, however, very unique. Each of the 8,301 graves has been adopted by a family in Holland.

That’s right. All 8,301 graves are cared for by Dutch families. Every holiday, they bring flowers to their adopted grave of the American service man who gave his life for their country’s freedom.

The tradition is handed down in a family from one generation to another. 66 years after the end of WWII, there is still a waiting list of families who want to adopt a grave.

I managed to locate the Dutch family that takes care of James Blake’s grave. I also gave them the address of Pat Blake. I wrote a letter to tell her.

A couple of weeks later, I received a card back from Pat. Along with the note telling me how grateful she was, there was a photograph of her brother, Jimmy. It was taken many years ago at a place Pat says was known as the Waterbury Canteen.

It shows a young man about to ship over to England for the invasion of mainland Europe. His girl, Betsy, stands with him at the bar. She’s wearing the young soldier’s hat.

You can talk about 1,000’s of deaths in war. You can talk about there being 8,301 American war graves in Holland. But it isn’t until you see a picture of a young American boy, with his girl at his side, at a bar in Waterbury in 1944, knowing that he will never make it home, that it hits you.

This weekend in Holland I will visit the grave of a son of Waterbury, PFC James E. Blake of the 88th Calvary Recon Squadron, 8th Armored Division. I will meet those who cared for his grave in anonymity all these years and thank them. I will bury the religious medal his sister sent me by his headstone.

I will stand there and salute the grave of this young man who died on March 28th, 1945, just over month before the war in Europe ended. I will pay my respects.

And as I walk away, I will reflect on his life, and those of the other 8, 300 who lie there with him in the Dutch earth. ..row after row of young men, who in the prime of life, risked everything to defeat tyranny and paid the ultimate price for you, for me, for Holland, for America, for us all.

Sherman McGrew

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Previous post:

Next post: