The 82nd is my division
Pieter Van Waal watched the director of the National Liberation Museum in Nijmegen, Holland, place a floral wreath made by Dutch elementary students at the front of the museum. Today, Sept. 17, 2014, is the 70th anniversary of Nijmegen’s liberation, Operation Market Garden.
As the first of several honored guests began to speak, Pieter’s eyes began to glisten. Soon tears began to stain his cheeks as his mind wandered back 70 years to Sunday, Sept. 17, 1944.
At every Sunday service since 1940, Pieter’s first prayer request had been, “Lord, please liberate us from the Nazis.” As an 8-year-old with a sister and two brothers, the Nazi occupation almost seemed a normal way of life — if you call the Gestapo normal. Pieter could hardly remember anything before May, 1940 when Holland was defeated in five days.
His family had returned home from church. Mrs. Van Waal quickly prepared lunch. There was never enough rationed food. His mother reminded the family as they ate, “It is better to have some food as opposed to no food.” After eating the four children were excused to play in the backyard.
Pieter was prompted to look up and saw hundreds, no, thousands, of white circles with men in brown uniforms and helmets descending. One of the brown uniforms with baggy pants grew larger and larger landing in their backyard. He gathered in his white silk parachute. Pieter noticed an AA patch on his left shoulder with an American flag on his right shoulder. Pieter’s first thought was, “God listened to my liberation prayers!”
The paratrooper in his late teens smiled as if he was an older brother. Several of the paratroopers ran to their yard as Mr. Van Waal rushed out the back door. Speaking English, he identified himself as a member of the Dutch resistance. He gave the “troopers” the locations of German troops in Nijmegen.
Up to that moment the children never knew their father was in the Dutch resistance. It was important to be ignorant of resistance activities. The Gestapo could not get information from someone who knew nothing.
The troopers ran double time to locate and defeat the Germans. After a couple of dozen gun shots, the residents of Nijmegen rushed to the city square to see several dead German soldiers lying in a mixture of their blood and dirt. The remaining Germans had their hands on their heads as the troopers removed the contents of each German’s pockets.
Several of the Nijmegen women were dragging two beautiful women in their early twenties by their flowing golden hair. The crowd chanted, “Collaborator, collaborator.” Hand clippers quickly changed them into two bald collaborators. The two tried unsuccessfully to escape punches, kicks and spit from the crowd as their clothes were torn.
Pieter’s wife, Greta, squeezed his right hand bringing him back to 2014. She gave him a kiss on his left cheek and whispered, “Pieter, why do you cry each year? Perhaps you should see a psychologist.”
He responded, “Greta, you were fortunate, being born in 1946. An 8-year-old boy’s prayers were answered 70 years ago. No more food rationing, and I speak Dutch today. The 82nd Airborne is my division!”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.