WWII Orphans to Visit Hallowed Grounds of Netherlands American Cemetery Memorial Day Weekend

On May 8, 1945 the world celebrated the end of World War II in Europe, but for some young American children it represented the beginning of a lifetime without their fathers. It’s estimated that more than 180,000 American children were left fatherless after the war. “War always leaves behind dead soldiers, grieving widows, grieving parents and children, who have suffered a loss over which they have no control,” said Geraldine Conway Morenski, whose father is buried in Netherlands American Cemetery.

Seventy years later, more than 50 of these men and women, who belong to the American World War II Orphans Network (AWON), will be traveling together to Netherlands American Cemetery for Memorial Day 2015 to visit the final resting place of their fathers. For some it will be their very first trip, and for others it will be a welcome return to these hallowed grounds. For most, they have no distinct memories of their father, other than stories shared from relatives or from letters he penned during the war. “I never knew my father. I never had a relationship with him,” said Arthur Chotin, whose father is also buried at the cemetery. “I never had someone who I could either hate or love. He was always a story to me.”

For all members of AWON traveling to the Netherlands, the visit represents an opportunity to connect with their fathers, to thank the Dutch for their long-standing commitment to honor and remember, and to build relationships with other men and women who have experienced the loss of a parent in war.

AWON made its first trip as a group to the cemetery in 2005, followed by another trip in 2010. “We all are orphans, but we all have our own stories because we all have different circumstances,” said Billie Ann Myers Meeks, whose father is buried in the Netherlands. “We’ll always have a special place in our heart for each other because we’ve walked down that road.” 

In talking with these men and women, they still feel the loss of their fathers nearly every day. They talk about missing both the big and small events. “There was nobody there to teach me to drive, or to walk me down the aisle,” said Patricia Rathje, whose father and uncle are buried side-by-side at the cemetery.

Throughout this month, as a way to honor these men and their families, ABMC will share a series of articles called Profiles in Sacrifice.  These articles will profile the fallen service member, and share perspective from these sons and daughters, who will travel across the Atlantic later this month.

Follow along on their journey Memorial Day weekend via the ABMC website, Facebook, and Instagram as they return to Netherlands American Cemetery.

About ABMC
Established in 1923 by Congress, ABMC is a U.S. government agency charged with commemorating the service, achievements and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces where they have served overseas since 1917. ABMC administers our nation’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and federal memorials. For more information visit www.abmc.gov, or connect with us on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.