Faces of Margraten Draws Nearly 20,000 Visitors to Netherlands American Cemetery

Nearly 20,000 visitors came to Netherlands American Cemetery May 2-6, 2018 to walk the cemetery grounds and experience Faces of Margraten. Organized by Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven (SVAAO) and its chairman Sebastiaan Vonk, this bi-annual event brings photos of the fallen into the cemetery. Visitors could walk the hallowed grounds and see nearly 6,000 photos of the young men and women who paid the ultimate price in World War II. Through the planning and organization of SVAAO, stands to accommodate the photos were placed next to headstones and the Tablets of the Missing in order to personalize the American sacrifice. “While we here at the cemetery take great pride in our part of hosting this event and are proud to have been part of it, most all of the credit for its success must go to Mr. Sebastiaan Vonk and the foundation,” said Netherlands American Cemetery Superintendent Keith Stadler. “They brought nearly 20,000 people to our cemetery to honor and pay their respects to our soldiers.”

Grandparents and parents brought young children to this event to pass on the importance of America’s role in liberating the Southern Netherlands during the war. “We are humbled by the fact that nearly 20,000 people visited the tribute,” said Vonk “But what matters even more is the conversations that people were having. Listening to families talk about the meaning of war and freedom while walking among the photos. That is what it is all about.”

The event opened with a ceremony on May 2 which included participation from the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra, Governor Theo Bovens, Maj. Gen. Carl Alex, Mayor  Dieudonné Akkermans, Vonk, and other distinguished guests. A new addition this year included the debut of the Voices of Margraten, a free audio tour, which is available for free download until May 2019. (Search for the Voices of Margraten tour within the app for English speakers. Search Stemmen van Margraten tour within the app for Dutch speakers.) During this five day event, visitors poured into the cemetery, often brining flowers with them. Cemetery staff estimate nearly 4,000 floral bouquets were placed in the cemetery during this time.

The next Faces of Margraten is planned for 2020 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands during World War II. In the meantime, SVAAO will continue to collect more personal photos, hoping to put a face to more than 7,500 Americans in time for the next tribute. The Dutch continue to ensure the American story of loss and sacrifice in World War II is not forgotten.