A Note From Our Agency Director
Seventy-five years ago this month, the Second World War ended. Thirty countries were involved in the conflict that left 70-85 million dead. The United States entered into World War II on December 8, 1941, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States called 16 million Americans to serve their country, with over 405,000 giving the ultimate sacrifice never to return home. The South Carolina State Library is dedicated to honoring members of the United States military and their families. Never has that been more evident than in these last six months as our research librarians, Ms. Virginia Pierce and Ms. Hannah Majewski, tirelessly worked to find photographs and information to aid in telling the stories of United States soldiers laid to rest halfway across the world, in the Netherlands.
Research questions are interesting; most are ordinary, and a few are outstanding and lead to the discovery of an unimaginable journey. This is a story of the latter.
Seventy-five years ago this month, Dutch citizens began leaving flowers at the gravesites of the fallen American soldiers who liberated them from four years of starvation, terror, and abuse. The Margraten Cemetery, located in the Netherlands, acts as the final resting place for 8,301 American soldiers; another 1,722 American soldiers are considered missing in action in the Netherlands. Thirty-two South Carolinian soldiers, who lost their lives in this specific area of conflict, are honored at Margraten Cemetery with little to no background information available. Their names are listed without a story or a photo.
The Margraten Cemetery and the Dutch people are nothing short of principled people who are incredibly grateful, seventy-five years later. They have a long tradition of honoring our American soldiers through an adoption program, which began informally at the end of WWII with laying flowers on the gravesites, and is now a formal adoption program. Every American soldier has been "adopted" with a list of waiting names ready to step in and pick up the honor and responsibility of caring for the American soldiers' gravesite. As an act of care and devotion, Dutch families try to get to know the soldier they have adopted so that their story may become part of the fabric of the families' larger, shared story. This is where our librarians have shined these last few months.
We began a partnership with the Faces of Margraten project to help locate photographs of the buried South Carolinian soldiers, who currently do not have one, and if possible, share their stories so that while they are gone, they are not forgotten. Ms. Pierce and Ms. Majewski have demonstrated commitment, perseverance, and ingenuity in locating living relatives of lost soldiers. They are experts at searching newspapers and records and have become experts at making cold calls in hopes of honoring our fallen, and provide closure to their loved ones. Their dedication to these South Carolina heroes led to SGT Clarence W. Cox of Abbeville's family learning that his plaque is on the "Wall of the Missing" at the Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands, and is being cared for by a Dutch family as one of their own. Before Ms. Majewski's call, the family of SGT Cox only knew that he was missing in action, but was not aware of his place on the "Wall of the Missing." SGT Cox's family shared photographs and stories with the South Carolina State Library, which we have shared with the Faces of Margraten project.
As this month celebrates both the end of WWII and Labor Day, I thought it fitting to dedicate this column to the work our librarians have done to honor our American heroes. Work that changes lives, one research question at a time, even seventy-five years later.
Leesa Aiken, SCSL Agency Director