As WWII memories fade, a Netherlands town refuses to forget

Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty Images

Though they came from cities and towns all over the United States, this is home for 8,301 men, about 235 of them from Minnesota. Another 1,722 are memorialized on a wall; they’re still missing.

The American War Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, The Netherlands is like no other. Since 1945, the people of Margraten have adopted a grave, and researched the lives of the fallen. They never stop honoring the Americans who helped save their country. Never.

Since 1946, for example, Jan and Gretha Sins and their family have cared for the resting place of Sgt. Louis J. Glavan of Kinney, Minn. When Gretha died a few years ago, her daughter, Patricia, took over the duty, according to Louis’ nephew, Tony Glavan.

Anthony Glavan made his first trip to Margraten in 2001, and met Gretha Sins, who adopted his uncle Louis’ grave. Photo courtesy of Anthony Glavan.

After the Nazis crossed the Maas River into the Netherlands, “he was sent to Germany to work in a factory making artillery shells,” Glavan says. “He had lost his freedom. He remembered that.”

Jan and Gretha Sins at the gravesite of Louis Glavan of Kinney, Minn.

Every two years, the graves and names on the wall are decorated with their photos. Seventy-four Minnesotans have no accompanying photograph. So Dutch and American volunteers are trying to find one in time for this year’s tribute, being held May 2-6.

Tony Glavan, a Medtronic retiree in Coon Rapids, acknowledges he’s not an expert in sleuthing, but he’s taken on the Minnesota part of the project spearheaded by Joek Hulsman, a Medtronic employee in the Netherlands. Hulsman’s grandfather was in the Resistance and as he was traveling by train to go into hiding, the train was strafed by an Allied plane, killing him.

Hulsman’s Medtronic employee group, wanting a Minnesota connection, has adopted Bernard Erickson on the Wall of the Missing. He hailed from Virginia, Minn., just a few miles from where Glavan grew up.

“The people of Margraten really want to know more about these soldiers,” Glavan told me.

Glavan, 61, has been to the cemetery three times and comes by detective work honestly.

He was taking pictures in the cemetery in 2015, when he saw Sophie and Jan Rozestraten pausing by a gravestone.

Her family had initially adopted the grave of Robert Omara of New Jersey, who was one of several soldiers billeted in her home in 1945.

“He said to her, ‘here’s my mom’s mailing address, send her a letter if something should happen, let her know,'” Glavan said. Omara was killed not long after. Sophie sent her letter.

After the war, Omara’s body was exhumed and returned to the U.S. Not long ago, Glavan traveled to New Jersey, found Omara’s grave, and sent the picture back to The Netherlands to let Sophie know he was OK, though it doesn’t appear he’s getting the attention he’d be getting were he still in Margaten.

With Omara moved, Sophie’s family adopted another one: Clement Siracusano, of New York.

“Sophie and Jan have been going to the cemetery every single Memorial Day since the war war ended,” Glavan says. “She would like to be in contact with family to let them know.”

So would Glavan, knowing that Sophie is in her nineties now and time is running out. But so far his search for the family of Clement Siracusano has come up empty.

Not so for Donald E. Bergstrom, who hailed from Kelliher, Minn. Glavan and another searcher found relatives in Washington state this week and his picture will be posted on The Wall of the Missing in May.

That leaves 74 72 71  Minnesotans to go.

Aldrich, Pvt. Louis T., Jackson County
Anderson, Pvt. George R., Ely
Arnold, Pvt. Levi A., Baudette
Bajula, Pvt. John R., Brainerd
Bertelson, Sgt. John E., Rush City
Bren, Pvt. Bennie F., Jr., Hennepin County
Burmeister, Tech. Rueben B., Fairbault
Butsch, Sgt. James A., Owatonna
Cassellius, Pvt. Bernard E., Wright County
Cheadle, Pvt. Aaron C., Stearns County
Cheney, Pvt. Russell D., Aitkin County
Chester, Pvt. Lewis H., Polk County
Christensen, Tecyh. Holger R., Pipestone County
Detlefsen, Pvt. John, Brown County
Dodge, Pvt. Howard R., Hector
Dodge, Sgt. William H., Virginia
Ellerbusch, Pvt Herbert W., St. Louis County
Evans, Pvt. Roy W., Brainerd
Gilcreast, Lt. William L., Wabasha County
Gough, Pvt. Robert F., Clarkfield
Hallett, Pvt. Marvin C., St. Louis County
Halvorson, Sgt. Robert L., St. Louis County
Hastings, Lt. Winthrope N., Mankato
Haugen, Tech. Rolf E., Kenyon
Heiberg, Lt. Lowell M., Twin Valley
Hellerud, Pvt. John H., Minneapolis
Hickerson, Pvt. James O., Beltrami
Hillstrom, Pvt. Rudolph E., Red Eye Township
Jenson, Pvt. Henry, Goodhue
Johnson, Cpl. Leonard M., Two Harbors
Kayute, Pvt. Marvin E., Duluth
Kobilka, Richart T., St. Paul
Kosloski, Pvt. Paul L., Hennepin
Lambrecht, Sgt. Alexander, Isanti
Lehmann, Lt. Monroe J., Mason County
Ligaard, Sgt. Herburne W., Hennepin County
Lister, Pvt. John J. Paynesville
Longton, Cpl. Gordon T., Minneapolis
Madetzke, Pvt. Kenneth H., Faribault County
Moen, Pvt. Richard S., Hennepin
Munn, Pvt. David L., Minneapolis
Nason, Pvt. Charles M., Moose Lake
Nelson, Pvt. Percy C., Lac Qui Parle
Olson, Lt. Leo G., Pine County
Olson, Tech. Rudolph, Cokato
Peck, Pvt. Robert F., Hennepin County
Peterson, Pvt. Lloyd M., Duluth
Phillips, Sgt. Hymen, Hennepin County
Powell, Pvt. Charles L., Minneapolis
Reed, Pvt. Norbert G., Nicollet County
Reichenbach, Sgt. Theodore, St. Louis County
Robillard, Tech. Frank C., Hennepin County
Roth, Pvt. Wesley F., St. Louis County
Rutjes, Cpl. Donald A., Mankato
Ryan, Cpl. Edward J., St. Louis County
Sahlberg, Sgt. Raymond E., St. Paul
Sam, Pvt., Paul, Isle
Sandness, Pvt. Ervin A., Faribault County
Schafer, Pvt. Harlan E., Germania Township
Schmitz, Lt. Howard W., Wright County
Schneider, Tech. Elmer E., Sugar Bush Township
Schulte, Pvt. Herbert F., Renville County
Scott, Pvt. James W., Faribault County
Skube, Pvt. Steve G., Ely
Smisek, Sgt. Milton C., Foreston
Spevacek, Pvt. George F., Renville County
Storch, Pvt. Lawrence A., Redwood County
Tate, Sgt. Robert J., Madelia
Twetten, Lt. Norman E., Washington County
Westlund, Sgt. Clarence R., Carlton County
Wolstein, Cpl. Isadore, Hennepin County
Works, Pvt. George S., Hector
Yonak, Pvt. Leo E., Monticello
Young, Cp. Gerald E., Ramsey County

Glavan says there’s some irony in his search. For as much as the Dutch don’t want to forget the American soldiers, some of the American families have. Occasionally when he makes contact with a family, he finds they know little about their fallen family member, or have no picture to share.

That won’t happen to Louis Glavan or his brother, Fred, who was also killed and is buried in Luxembourg. In all, six Glavan brothers went off to war. Louis almost made it home.

Sgt. Louis Glavan was with the 1st Infantry Division, 18 Infantry Regiment. He fought in North Africa, Sicily, went ashore on Omaha Beach at around 12:30 in the afternoon of June 6th, 1944. He’s shown here in the Normandy area around mid-July 1944 after they were pulled off the front lines to get rested before the huge battle to break out of the Normandy area. Photo courtesy of Anthony Glavan

The Germans surrendered on May 7, 1945.

“You look at the graves in Margraten,” Tony Glavan says, “and a lot of these guys were killed in March and April ’45. They were so close to making it home.”