Since he was 13, almost a decade ago, Robin Gulikers of the Netherlands has placed flowers on the grave of Pfc. Robert Ramsdell buried in the American Military Cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands. It’s become a monthly ritual for the teenager, part of the Dutch “Fallen Not Forgotten” program honoring American servicemen killed in action whiled liberating Holland from the Germans in World War II.
Gulikers spent a week visiting Don and Norma Ramsdell, the dead soldier’s younger brother and wife, at their home in Harbor Cove mobile home park, North Port, Fla..
The three met for the first time after connecting with each other through the internet six years ago. The older couple took the 21-year-old on a sightseeing tour of West Coast Florida during his recent week-long visit to the U.S.
“The American forces liberated our part of the Netherlands on Sept. 14, 1944,” Gulikers observed. “Pfc. Robert J. Ramsdell served in the 303rd Regiment, 97th Division of Gen. Omar Bradley’s 1st. Army.”
Ramsdell was a forward artillery observer driving a Jeep between the American and German lines when his vehicle was hit by German mortar fire. He didn’t survive.
Don, one of his younger brothers, remembers being in school in New York at the time. He said his school’s principle came to his classroom, and gave him the bad news about his brother. Then he drove him home.
“My oldest brother, Bob, was great. He was always taking care of me and my other two bothers who were also younger. He was the Salutatorian of our high school. Bob had great ambition,” Don explained.
“My family is so happy we finally made contact with Robin,” he added. “Robin is a really dedicated young man.
“I think all the Dutch people should be honored by us Americans for what they do to take care of American graves over there. It’s a great program they have to put flowers on American soldiers graves.”
“All of the 8,000 plus graves in the American cemetery at Margraten have been adopted by the Dutch,” Gulikers said. “There is a waiting line of Dutch who want to participate in the program.
“In addition, there are a thousand or more Americans, mostly airmen, whose bodies have never been recovered. Their names are on a wall in the cemetery who have also been adopted,” he explained.
Gulikers said he became interested in World War II history by reading books about the war when he was a youngster in school.
“I decided to sign up for the grave adoption program when I was 12. At school they took us on a field trip to the Netherlands American Military Cemetery and told us what these soldiers did for our country,” he recalled. “When I was 13 I was given Pfc. Ramsdell’s grave.
“I try and put flowers on his grave every month. In the beginning, when the weather wasn’t too bad, I would ride my bike to his grave. It’s about 15 minutes from my home by car,” Gulikers said.
Now a sophomore in college, Gulikers still makes his pilgrimage to Ramsdell’s grave whenever possible.
“It’s the least I can do considering what he gave me and my country,” he said. Born almost half a century after the liberation of the Netherlands by American forces near the close of the Second World War, Gulikers feels it’s his duty to do what he does for the long dead soldier and his family.
“All of us in this country are very proud of Robin,” Don said while sitting at his dining room table surrounded by newspaper obits and pictures of his brother’s grave.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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