Marking US history along the Liberation Route Europe

As we work towards the implementation phase of the International Hiking Trail initiative, the Liberation Route Foundation, in collaboration with the Operation Liberty Foundation, National History Day, and with the support of the Starr Foundation, made a first important step in making the trail tangible. In November, these organisations joined forces to honour veterans and educate young people about the war, through a project to keep the memory of World War II alive through our shared values of peace and freedom.

This was done by inspiring and mobilizing 10 students and 10 teachers from the United States. From November 13th to 17th, they participated in a program created by Liberation Route Europe Foundation that featured sites in the Netherlands that were particularly important to history of the U.S. during the war effort. These were along the Liberation Route, and this project was especially symbolic given that it is 75 years after World War II.

During the project, the first series of prominent markers, called ‘Vectors of Memory’, designed by Daniel Libeskind, were placed along the Liberation Route International Hiking Trail. They were handed over to members of Liberation Route Europe Foundation, and in this way, they contributed to the beginnings of a sustainable one-of-a-kind remembrance trail, paying an important tribute to US veterans.

From the Anne Frank House to the Sunset March: Experiencing the Netherlands and WWII

The students participated in a comprehensive 3-day programme. Once they arrived in Amsterdam, the first stop was the Anne Frank House, after which they left for Gelderland, an area that is rich in the history of the America during WWII. During the kick-off dinner the very first ‘Vectors of Memory’ were handed over to partners situated along the Liberation Route International Hiking Trail. The city of Nijmegen, the Province of Gelderland, Brabant Remembers, the Freedom Museum, the German War Cemetery Ysselsteyn and the Wings of Liberation Museum were the first ones to receive the “Vectors” that mark the route.

"Seeing the Vectors and to understand what they mean, is super important. Especially for us, to be able to give them to the people and place them. We are the first ten students to be able to do this and that is very special in itself."
- Angelique Gingras, student
"I am really excited that we get to be a part of the very beginning of the Liberation Route, the beginning of the process of placing the Vectors."
- Chloee Robinson

Throughout the rest of the days, the students had the opportunity to experience first-hand the sites, monuments, and museums that make this area of the Netherlands special to the history of WWII. Amongst other things, they participated in a brainstorm session at the Freedom Museum, visited both the German War Cemetery Ysselsteyn and the Netherlands American cemetery in Margraten, and were able to finish their trip with the famous Sunset March across the Oversteek bridge in Nijmegen.

"I think the design is done well enough to catch your eye. Even if you not necessarily walking the trail, between the area it catches your eye and then you will read about it and that will bring more people into the Route."
- McLean Brown, student
"When you hear about how big it is, but then seeing it is something completely different. Everywhere you look there’s just more and more graves. I think people coming here because of the Route is really important because it brings more people here to learn about history."
- McLean Brown, student

The Silent Hero Program at the Netherlands American Cemetery

"I know it’s going to be an amazing experience talking about these personal stories."
- Elia O'Hara, student

Notably, a strong transatlantic connection and cooperation was visible during the “Silent Hero Program”, which is designed by National History Day. Before the trip, the students had already researched the personal stories of soldiers who had fought during World War II and were buried at the Netherlands American cemetery in Margraten. When they visited the site, they met the Dutch adopters of the specific graves of the soldiers they had been looking into. By sharing the stories about their academic and cultural research, they increased the ties between the U.S. and Europe, remembered and honoured the sacrifices of the Silent Heroes, and at the same time, they kept the memory of their fallen hero alive for years to come. It was a moment to pause and to reflect on the journey that they as students had taken, and to connect it with the larger history of WWII.

"At the Netherlands American Cemetery I just got finished delivering my eulogy for my Silent Hero John M. Sherry. It is a big relief to be able to come here and deliver the eulogy in front of the family that takes care of his grave. It puts it into perspective to where it’s not just a number anymore, it’s not just a name, it’s a person that had a family and a live and they had to give all that up for us. I found that really touching."
- Tommy Williams, student

A Project That Will Live On

Actively involving youth in placing the “Vectors” and walking parts of the International Hiking Trail offered the perfect opportunity to showcase how this project can exist as a way of fostering communities across oceans, and collectively reflecting on the importance of remembrance for future generations. A resounding success, LRE is looking forward to organising these kinds of projects in the future again. We would like to thank the Starr Foundation, Studio Libeskind, Gen. (ret.) Wesley Clark, National History Day, the students and teachers, our members, stakeholders and everyone who contributed to and participated in the ‘Operation Liberty’ project.

Take a look at the video below for the highlights of the full programme and to hear the students explain their experiences in their own words.

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