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'The stories are almost unknown': The search for Holland's African-American liberators

A Dutch historian is in St. Louis this week searching for information about 172 African-American soldiers who are buried or memorialized in the Netherlands American Cemetery, pictured here during a Memorial Day 2017 ceremony.
American Battle Monuments Commission

Some of the U.S. soldiers who helped liberate Holland in September 1944 during World War II never made it home, and many of them are buried or memorialized in the Netherlands American Cemetery. Those ranks include 172 African-American service members.

Dutch historian Sebastiaan Vonk's efforts to learn about their lives have taken him on a trip to St. Louis.

“There are a lot of veterans coming over each year [to the Netherlands], but the African-American veterans unfortunately have not been coming over a lot,” Vonk said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “The stories are almost unknown. So that’s something that we, I guess you could say, want to get fixed and make sure that also their stories are told and also that their service is being honored.”

Vonk joined host Don Marsh to discuss his project, “African American Liberators of the Netherlands,” and what he’s been hoping to find during his research at the National Archives this week.

“We really try to recollect their whole life – from birth to the end,” the historian explained. “So it’s not just about the military part – what was their life like prior to the war in St. Louis and elsewhere in the United States.”

Six of the African-American soldiers whose stories he is searching for were from St. Louis.

“In the end we hope that we are able to find relatives who are willing to share that story with us so that we can tell it and put it out to the world,” Vonk said.

He added that he and his colleagues are grateful for any help in their research efforts. The names of all of the soldiers are listed on the project website, blackliberators.nl, as is contact information to connect with the researchers.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill, LaraHamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.