The Dutch Door To America

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It is in the western provinces of Gelderland and Noord Brabant that the majority of American memorials are found. Gelderland, between Nijmegen and Arnhem, is rich in natural beauty. Deep forests and golden fields stretch like a checkerboard tablecloth across the distinctly un-Dutch rolling hills. The Rhine River Valley, dotted with castles, remains a favorite vacation destination. Gelderland was the scene of Operation Market Garden, an undertaking by American, British, and Polish airborne divisions to secure bridges needed for the advance of the Allied armies. The 82d Airborne landed at Nijmegen on September 17, 1944, turning it into a ferocious battleground.

Nijmegen, Holland’s oldest city, is built on hills above the Maas and Waal Rivers. Today it is home to numerous monuments and a museum that pay tribute to the efforts of the Allied troops. A relief sculpture on a white wall of the Hotel Sionshof, Allied headquarters during Nijmegen’s liberation, shows an American parachutist floating to earth amidst a scattering of parachutes. The inscription reads simply: “17 Sept. 1944.”

Southeast of Nijmegen, in Groesbeek, a public garden on General Gavinstraat contains a giant stone star dedicated to the 82d’s commander, Gen. James Gavin. In Overasselt, southwest of Nijmegen, a starkly elegant parachute sculpture commemorates the landings of the U.S. 325th Glider and 504th Parachute Infantry. The 101st Airborne’s strategic objectives included bridges at Eindhoven, Son, Sint Oedenrode, and Veghel. A monument marks the scene of intense fighting along the Veghel-Uden road, known as Hell’s Highway. South of Veghel, in Best, the museum Bevrijdende Vleugels (Wings of Liberation museum) covers the entire war, but because it’s situated in the area where the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” landed, the exhibits focus most closely on their experience.

The railroad stations at Nijmegen, Ede, Arnhem, and Oosterbeek all offer bicycle rentals. This is the best way to appreciate the region’s atmosphere, suspended between natural beauty and human tragedy. Bike trails allow easy access to many cemeteries, monuments, and museums. Special programs for those interested in viewing history this way include an annual fietsentocht (bike tour) of Airborne-related sites held in late August.

And there is more—much more—for the traveler who is interested in the Dutch chapter of America’s past. Scores of other spots scattered throughout the nation speak of this strong old connection. Be it in trade, or politics, or philosophical conviction, the Lowland link to America’s destiny persists, waiting to reveal itself to those willing to venture beyond Holland’s tourist-worn trails.

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