Grave Adoption Program at Netherlands American Cemetery Receives Special Designation

At the Netherlands American Cemetery, the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery Margraten and its long-standing grave adoption program received an important designation this year from the government of the Netherlands. The program is now recognized as part of the Dutch National Inventory of Immaterial Cultural Inheritance. This program began in the Netherlands when the government ratified the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012. As the name implies, the program aims to protect elements of culture that are not physical and tangible.

“The adoption of American war graves in Margraten is a cultural inheritance raised from respect and gratitude for the American liberators during WWII,” stated the Dutch National Centre for Immaterial Inheritance in its recognition of the program. “It also achieves awareness of the vulnerability of our society.”

The grave adoption program began informally at the cemetery at the end of World War II. Beginning around Memorial Day 1945, local Dutch citizens near Margraten began bringing flowers to graves at the cemetery to honor the American sacrifice. In the decades since, the program has formalized with every headstone and name on the Wall of the Missing having been adopted. The grave adoption program has become woven into the fabric of life in the Limburg region of the southern Netherlands.

“The adoption of U.S. war graves and the U.S. cemetery itself makes people think of the enormous sacrifice that has been made for our freedom—the lives of tens of thousands of young Americans,” reflected Tom Hermes, president of the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery Margraten, which officially runs the program. “Adoption also connects with American next of kin and families and often leads to long standing ties of friendship.”

American families take great solace in knowing that someone from the local community cares about the sacrifice of their relative. The person who has adopted the grave often places flowers multiple times a year, and usually tries to research the person—wanting to learn about who they were. These adopters don’t physically care for the gravesite, rather they “adopt” the memory of that person into their own family, keeping their legacy alive in the Netherlands.

About ABMC:
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 26 overseas military cemeteries, and 29 memorials, monuments, and markers.