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Dutch Cemetery Seeks Photo of Ludlow Soldier Killed in World War II

Thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David, row after row. This is what one sees when overlooking the American War Cemetery in the town of Margraten, the Netherlands. The markers are testimony to the sacrifices made by many young American men and women for the freedom of Europe during World War II. Through The Faces of Margraten project in May 2015 the Dutch will pay special tribute to these soldiers by decorating their more than 10,000 graves and names on the Walls of the Missing with personal photos of the soldiers.
 
The project has started a quest to locate more soldiers’ photos.
 
Kenton county native Vernon Napier is among those to be honored. Currently, there is a personal photo available for about a third of the 10,023 American soldiers buried 
in or memorialized at the cemetery, according to a news release from the cemetery. "We have been impressed by all the support for the project so far," said Sebastiaan Vonk, chairman of the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves, which is organizing The Faces of Margraten tribute. "Many of the graves' adopters, the soldiers' 
relatives, veterans, and others have contributed by submitting a personal photo of a soldier in the past months, all joining us in remembering these brave men and women, finally putting a face to the names of our liberators."
 
However, thousands of photos are still missing, including one of Staff Sergeant Vernon Napier. A son of Gertrude Napier of Ludlow, S/Sgt. Napier served with the 709th Tank Battalion. He was killed in action at the Huertgen Forest in Germany on December 9, 1944.
 
“Maybe you’re related to S/Sgt. Napier, or to any of the other soldiers, and have a photo tucked away in an album you haven’t looked through in years. Please look again, and if you find one, help us honor S/Sgt. Napier’s sacrifice and that of thousands of other Americans by contributing the photo to The Faces of Margraten,” said Vonk. "Each photo matters, even if the quality is not great, because it means another soldier who will be honored," Vonk added.
 
Photos can be submitted through the project's website, www.TheFacesOfMargraten.com. All submitted photos as well as other information on these soldiers can already be found in the foundation's Fields of Honor - Database. The photos will be placed next to the headstones from May 2-5, when the Netherlands observes the 70th anniversary of its liberation.
 
"If you look at all the photos, you will see many young men and women, sometimes with their parents, with their brothers and sisters, their friends, sometimes with their own children. Looking at these photos makes you realize that they were not just soldiers; they were young individuals like us with a family, friends, interests, and dreams. We could have been them had we lived in a different time and place," Vonk remarks.
 
Adopting graves
 
Since 1945, Dutch locals have adopted the graves of the soldiers buried in Margraten. Out of heartfelt respect and gratitude, the graves’ adopters regularly visit the graves and decorate them with flowers. Many of the graves' adopters also continue to correspond with the families of soldiers back home in the United States. The care for the graves of their loved ones has been a comfort to many of these families and the foundation of long-lasting friendships between Dutch and American families.
 
Seventy years after the war, younger generations have taken up the responsibility to remember these soldiers. "When I speak to people they sometimes say that the youth no longer cares about the past and those who fought for their freedom. I do not believe that. Many young Dutch people show an interest in the war and continue to visit these cemeteries, and many, like me, have adopted a grave and are volunteers for The Faces of Margraten tribute. We will continue to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for many years to come," Vonk, 22, said.
 
Photo: Netherlands American Cemetery by Iijjccoo at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons