Near the end of World War II, when Aggie Konings of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a 15-year-old teenager living in Limburg, Holland, she volunteered to put flowers on the grave of an American soldier who had fallen in battle while liberating her homeland from the Germans.
“In our town in Holland, a committee was established by the local people to discuss helping take care of the American Cemetery established at Margraten, Holland,” she recalled more than six decades later. “This committee went from school to school in our area looking for volunteers.
“We were told, ‘These boys are buried here. They have no family to take care of their graves. If anyone would like to adopt a grave they could sign up. Almost all the girls in my class, together with a few boys, put their names on a sheet of paper,” Konings said proudly.
Before the effort to recruit teenagers to tend the American graves was over, thousands of local school children volunteered to maintain the grave sites.
More than 10,000 soldiers were buried in the American cemetery in Holland. Many were airborne soldiers who died while participating in “Operation Market Garden.” It was the Allied air drop that involved tens of thousands of paratroopers who jumped into Holland to capture a series of bridges leading into Germany. Their efforts were immortalized in the movie, “A Bridge Too Far.”
Kornings was assigned the grave of Pvt. William L. Sievers, a BAR-man (Browning Automatic Weaponman) killed in Germany on Feb. 27, 1945. He was in Company C, 115th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. Sievers joined the service from Marquette, Mich., where he grew up.
“I would have to go to the grave with my older brother, Joe, because my mother wouldn’t let me go alone. My brother and I would get on our bicycles at least once a month and take flowers to the grave,” she said. “The cemetery was 10 miles away. It would take us a whole day to go back and forth.
“I bought the flowers to put on the soldier’s grave. They weren’t very expensive, but I used all my pocket money for the month,” Konings said. “My mother would pack sandwiches for the two of us. We’d ride halfway to the cemetery and reach the Catholic monastery where we would stop, eat our sandwiches and the nuns would give us a cup of coffee.
“We’d get back on our bikes and make the final leg of the journey to the cemetery. We’d walk our bicycles into the cemetery and put the flowers on his grave. I’d sit on the grass with my brother and talk about the soldier.”
Today, Joe Schroeders, her brother, lives in Venice.
Their whole family immigrated to the United States after the war because of concerns that the Soviet Union might take control of Europe.
“I wrote letters in Dutch to Pvt. Sievers’ family. They wrote me back in English. They had to get my letters translated and I had to get theirs translated. I sent them a picture of myself. It appeared in the family’s local newspaper with an accompanying story saying a Dutch girl was tending his grave.
“One time the soldier’s family even called me from America. That was very unusual in those days to get a call from the U.S.A.,” she said.
Konings continued her grave tending until 1947 when the private’s body was exhumed and taken back to America for final burial at a cemetery near Marquette. That was the end of her communication with the American family of the dead soldier until 2007, when she talked to the soldier’s younger sister, Patsy Jensen, in Marquette.
“Putting flowers on the grave of an American soldier was my way of trying to give something back to the American people. It was my way of showing how grateful we were for being liberated by the Americans,” she said.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, April 16, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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