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The Netherlands Search for Relatives of 172 Buried Black Liberators
February 13 – February 26, 2020
Praising the Past

david mcghee

The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is the final resting place for 8, 291 American War World II soldiers, 172 of them are Black. “We know they are Black from their burial records,” confirmed Maarten Vleeming, a historian with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

According to US government records, an enormous repatriation started in 1947, two years after the war ended. However, in many cases of the 172 families, they had failed to initially respond whether they wanted the remains shipped back to the US for burial. After not hearing from the families, the local Red Cross was contacted to obtain more information about the family’s whereabouts.

In a Black history month celebration at The Netherlands’ US embassy, the Northwestern European country shared information about their efforts to learn more about the 172 men and to find their relatives, 75 years after the war ended. The Kingdom’s Black Liberators project, with the help of American organizations including the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), has so far found 20 families.  Two of those 20 families include the families of Willie F. Williams and Linwood Taliaferro.

“I feel proud,” about Williams’ accomplishments said his grandson David McGhee. McGhee says the family had forgotten about the solider until his grandmother died and the family allowed him to have a suitcase of memorabilia about her husband, his grandfather.

Vleeming says it was during McGhee’s search for more information about Williams that “they found each other.” LaVonne Taliaferro-Bunch, a grand niece of Taliaferro, said her experience was the about same.  Their family was wondering about Taliaferro when she got calls from the Black Liberator’s project. However, she blew them off as crank calls until “they called my husband at work.” 

Aside from missed calls, a 1973 fire at the National Archives in St. Louis also complicates the researchers' efforts. The fire burned 80 percent of the World War II records. The project will soon post information about all 172 men on its website.  

Like Doris Miller, whom the Navy recently named an aircraft carrier to be delivered in 2028, most of the Black soldiers were limited to manual labor. “How they lived, were dictated by history,” added Ric Murphy, Vice President of the AAHGS. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture and Footsteps Researchers are the other two American organizations involved in the project.
The Northwestern European country shared information about their efforts to learn more about the 172 Black men and to find their relatives, 75 years after the war ended.

And, like many soldiers, some of the Black soldiers left children there. But that is another issue said one of the presenters who also briefly shared that Dutch families continue to overflow with gratitude by adopting the gravestones of each US liberator who lost their life for them in World War II.

Picking up where Murphy left off during the embassy ceremony, 95 and 6 months-year-old Dr. James W. Baldwin shared how he lived before the war and the environment that led him to war and combat. Though an unequal citizen at home, the US government arrogantly drafted him in 1943 to fight for the freedom of The Netherlands. Without the bitterness that many would expect, he ended the wisdom sharing by saying that two of his friends are buried at the cemetery at Margraten, The Netherlands. He said, “For my 100th birthday, I think I will go over there to take a look.”

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