Nick Cain (Sept. 18, 2014) If you’ve taken a World War II history class, then you’ve probably heard of the term “Operation Market Garden”. For those who haven’t, it was the largest airborne operation in military history at that time, and an Allied operation to liberate northern Holland and capture eight strategic Dutch bridges—essentially creating an open door into Nazi Germany. Though the overall operation did not prove to be the fatal blow that the allies had hoped for—due to a series of mistakes that pitted lightly-armored British and American paratroopers against two entire divisions of elite German Panzer tanks—the allies did establish a presence in Holland, and secure control of several key bridges.
That’s it for the history class, and a brief overview of Operation Market Garden. It was a moderately successful campaign that had little effect on the final outcome of the war. However, as is often the case in war, a closer look at the personal struggles of those involved and the lasting impact on their stakeholders can reveal a far greater significance to the events of mid-September, 1944. This story comes from the Dutch town of Grave nestled on the Holland-German border:
It was 12:31 in the afternoon on September 17, 1944 when the pathfinders (the first airborne soldiers to drop-in) of the 504th parachute infantry regiment of the 82nd airborne division landed in their drop-zone in Holland. Thirty minutes later, they were followed by the remainder of their regiment and members of the 307th engineer battalion to become the first allied troops on the ground for Operation Market Garden. Among the 504th was then-27 year-old PFC (private first class) Curtis C. Morris from Louisiana.
Within a period of just 6 hours, the 504th assembled their ranks, engaged the enemy and captured their initial objectives—losing only one bridge to German destruction. Platoon Commander Lieutenant John S. Thompson, of the 504th Easy Company, and sixteen of his men—including PFC Morris—landed close to the town of Grave in Holland and succeeded in capturing both ends of the Grave Bridge from the Nazis that day.
Over the next two days, John, his men, and the rest of the 504th regiment held their ground by conducting aggressive combat with the enemy and keeping sharp reconnaissance patrols; until, they made ground link-up with the Irish Guards—a British regiment—spearheading the advance of the 30th Corps of the Second British Army and pushing Operation Market Garden forward. Unfortunately, PFC Morris was KIA in Grave on the 18th of September under the intense fighting.
The war proceeded forward. Over the next week, Market Garden proved only moderately successful, yet the Allies eventually made their advance to Berlin. This culminated with the conclusion of WWII in Europe on May 8th, 1945.
Though the war ended many decades ago, the story has continued. Eternally grateful for their liberation, the Dutch people of Grave have converted two wartime pillboxes located near the Grave Bridge—now named the John S. Thompson Bridge, after the brave lieutenant—into a museum that honors the heroic exploits of the 504th. Every year on September 17th, they hold a commemoration for heroes like PFC Morris who gave their lives to free them from Nazi oppression.
This year will be even more special for the people of Grave because of the keen awareness and large heart of Evert Vos, the manager of the wartime museum. He has reached out personally to Remember Heroes in order to honor the heroic PFC Curtis Morris with a patriotic floral arrangement on September 17th, Grave Liberation Day. PFC Morris is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, and will finally get to take part in the celebration of freedom he never got to enjoy 70 years ago.
Nick Cain, COO
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