The town of Eindhoven, Holland has no special interest in the 4th of July. It does, however, celebrate each September 17th, greeting each other with the slogan “Remember September!” I know this because, before he died, my foster brother “Rusty” Quirici was annually invited to return to Holland. He, and any surviving US Army buddies, were treated like royalty. The reunion ceremonies included Dutch “old-timers” who survived the German invasion leading up to WW II. Their responses were often tearful and included comments like: “Thank you! Thank you GIs! You not only saved our lives, you freed us from the horrible oppression of the evil Hitler. Without your sacrifices, our children would be speaking German.”
They were not mistaken. WWII was the bloodiest war in world history resulting with between 60 and 80 million deaths. The little country of Holland lost over 300,000 people. The American military cemetery near St. Laurent, France has graves of 9,387 US soldiers and a list of 1,557 who are not accounted for. There are 13 additional American cemeteries on foreign soil containing 93,234 graves and 55,860 listed as missing or unaccounted for. By the end of the war, 420,000 US soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen perished.
Rusty graduated from St. Helena High School in 1943 and did what thousands of young American men did, enlisted for military service. Hitler was leading the Germans on a rampage through Europe and he and his friends felt that they simply had no other choice. His choice, however, was sobering. He joined the US Army with the intention of volunteering for the 101st Airborne Paratrooper Division, also known as “The Screaming Eagles.” He went through six weeks of boot camp, was assigned to “jump school” and six weeks later was sent to England. Preparations were being made for the US-Allied invasion of France, secretly known as “Operation Overlord,” which began on June 6, 1944 with the “D-Day” invasion.
The primary D-Day invasion, on the beaches of France, resulted in 10,000 casualties, including 2,500 American soldiers. Shortly after D-Day, the 101st Airborne was assigned the treacherous task of being airlifted and dropped behind the German lines in Holland on September 17, 1944 as part of “Operation Market Garden”, a follow-on to D-Day. His unit was assigned to destroy roads and bridges that would prevent a possible German retreat. As they were clearing a German minefield along a key Dutch road, a German landmine exploded and killed all of his squad-mates. The explosion tore a large hole in his back, blew the lower half of one leg off and left him struggling for air. Miraculously, medics were able to stop the bleeding in his back and leg, perform a field tracheotomy, which restored breathing, and connect with Dutch sympathizers who helped get him to a hospital in England.
When he returned home he was fitted with what would be one of several prosthetic legs, which allowed him to resume a nearly normal life. In the late 1940s he became the first amputee to earn a private pilot license in California. He found a career, married, fathered four children and lived a full rich life. We met at family reunions for over 50 years and I never heard him complain about his compromised life-style, but was quietly proud of the fact that the sacrifices he made helped alter the fate of Western civilization.
Every year, on November 11, I take time to pause, reflect and offer prayers of gratitude for all of the men and women who paid the ultimate price of “laying down their lives” to protect my freedom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HR6mj3Cexs