Darke Countians rest in war graves

DARKE COUNTY – Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it.”

While the families of American soldiers who have died in defense of freedom throughout the world know too well the harsh reality behind Kennedy’s famous words, there are foreign nations like the Netherlands where the locals continue to pay their respects to those men and women in the U.S. military who gave the ultimate sacrifice over seven decades ago so they could live in freedom.

Ever since the people of the Netherlands were freed from Nazi Germany occupation on May 5, 1945, by Allied Forces, the Dutch have been paying their respects to the American soldiers who died in nearby battles during World War II by adopting their grave or name on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.

Located in the Dutch city of Margraten, the permanent American military cemetery is overseen by the American Battle Monuments Commission, an agency of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. The cemetery contains 8,301 graves and a Tablets of the Missing memorial, which contains the names of 1,722 American soldiers missing in action.

Two of those graves contain the remains of Darke County natives Myron P. Coblenz and Robert K. Young, and Milo Orla Whipple is listed on the Walls of the Missing.

Dutchman Sebastiaan Vonk is one of the thousands of residents of the Netherlands who currently adopts one or more of the 10,023 graves and/or names located in the cemetery. He adopted his first grave at the age of 13.

“Ever since the end of WWII, people have adopted the graves of these men and women out of a deeply heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices that they made for our freedom,” Vonk said. “They truly are our liberators and heroes.”

Vonk added the “Adopt-A-Grave” program, which was founded in 1945 by Dutch citizens, currently has a waiting list of 300 Dutch wishing to adopt a grave or name in the Margraten cemetery.

“As part of adopting the grave, many visit the graves regularly to bring flowers,” he said. “Moreover, many have conducted research on the soldier whose grave they have adopted, hoping to learn more about them. It was, and it is, not uncommon that adopters correspond with the soldiers’ families. In fact, transatlantic friendships between families that began just after the war continue to exist today in some cases.”

Unfortunately, many adopters have been unable to locate the one thing in particular they’ve sought out to find – a photograph of the American soldier who died so the Netherlands could be liberated.

Vonk has been helping his fellow Dutchmen put a face to the name of the soldier they’ve adopted through the Fields of Honor – Database, a website he developed in 2007 at the age of 14 to collect and display information and photographs of the nearly 24,000 American soldiers buried in Margraten and two other American military cemeteries in Belgium (Ardennes and Henri-Chapelle).

The Faces of Margraten tribute born

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Netherlands’ liberation from Nazi Germany occupation, a Dutch nonprofit known as the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves, which Vonk serves as chairman of and helped found in 2011, put together the first annual The Faces of Margraten event in May 2015.

Leading up to the tribute, which was attended by 25,000 people, the foundation called on volunteers to help find photographs of the soldiers buried or memorialized in Margraten that had yet to be found and posted to the Fields of Honor – Database.

With the help of countless volunteers, the foundation was able to locate photographs for 3,300 of the 10,000-plus soldiers. From May 2-5 of 2015, these photographs were placed beside the graves and in front of the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery.

“For the first time in 70 years, our liberators were literally given a face, and not just on the Internet,” Vonk said. “The 3,300 photos were testimony to many individual lives that were lost during the war.”

With the second annual The Faces of Margraten tribute scheduled to take place May 1-5, the race is on to find additional photographs to put even more faces to the names.

“We expect to have 4,000 photos on display this year,” Vonk said. “Soldiers’ families continue to contact us with additional photos, and we have been able to successfully reach out to other families through the U.S. media.

“It is just very important for us that we get the word out about this project, and I would like to call on everyone to help spread the word. We have 4,000 faces now, but sadly, 6,000 are still missing,” he added.

Families of American soldiers buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten can submit photos by visiting www.thefacesofmargraten.com.For families unsure if their loved one is buried in Margraten, they can search cemetery records by visiting www.fieldsofhonor-database.com. The website also contains information for American soldiers buried in Belgium at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery as well as at Ardennes American Cemetery.

According to the database, the following soldiers with ties to Darke County are buried in the Netherlands and Belgium:

Margraten

Myron Peter Coblentz, service number O-1177336

Born: 1912, Darke County, Ohio

Hometown: Genesee County, Kentucky

Family: Claude H. Coblentz (father), Nellie L. Coblentz (mother), Lois Coblentz (sister), Dean Coblentz (brother), Jean Coblentz (brother), Pauline Coblentz (sister), Doris (Roberts) Coblentz (sister)

Rank: Captain

Battalion: 879th Field Artillery Battalion

Division – Transport: 69th Infantry Division

Date of death: April 16, 1945

Status: killed in action

Place of death: Near Leipzig, Germany

Awards: Silver Star, Purple Heart

Gravenumber: Plot A, Row 9, Grave 12

Other information: Capt Myron P. Coblentz was stationed from his entrance into the field artillery until he went to Fort Sill., Oklahoma, to officer candidate school. After receiving his commission he was sent overseas in December 1944. Capt Coblentz was killed by enemy artillery fire while directing a counter offensive at Leipzig, Germany on April 16, 1945. For bravery in the action which cost him his life, he was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.

Robert K. Young, service number O-721899

Age: 24

Born: October 1920, Richland, Darke County, Ohio

Hometown: Muncie, Delaware County, Indiana

Family: Albert A. Young (father), Edith H. (Krick) Young (mother), Glenn Young (brother), Ethel L. Young (sister), Lowell H. Young (brother), George F. Young (brother), Illah A. Young (sister)

Rank: Second Lieutenant

Function: Pilot

Company – Squadron: 556th Bomber Squadron

Unit – Group: 387th Bomber Group, Medium

Date of death: May 10, 1945

Status: died non-battle

Awards: Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters

Gravenumber: Plot G, Row 13, Grave 24

Other information: 2nd Lt. Robert K. Young enlisted at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana on Sept. 2, 1942. He entered the U.S. Army as a private with serial number 15080926. He completed four years of high school and was married. Robert K. Young was killed in a Jeep accident.

Milo Orla Whipple, service number 35665804

Age: 25

Born: Feb. 24 1920, Jackson, Jay County, Indiana

Hometown: Darke County, Ohio

Family: Alba O. Whipple (father), Ella N. (Bailey) Whipple (mother), Ralph L. Whipple (brother), Dale L. Whipple (brother)

Rank: Private First Class

Regiment: 22nd Infantry Regiment

Division – Transport: 4th Infantry Division

Date of death: Dec. 3, 1944

Status: finding of death/missing in action

Awards: Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster

Gravenumber: Walls of the Missing

Other information: Pfc Milo O. Whipple enlisted in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Oct. 14, 1942.

Ardennes

Sylvester B. Goeke, service number O-669702

Born: 1918, Ohio

Hometown: Greenville, Darke County, Ohio

Family: Bernard J. Goeke (father), Ida Goeke (mother), Ralph Goeke (brother), Robert Goeke (brother), Juanita Goeke (sister)

Rank: First Lieutenant

Function: Pilot

Division – Transport: XII Bomber Command

Company – Squadron: 442nd Bomber Squadron

Unit – Group: 320th Bomber Group, Heavy

Plane data: Serial number: 42-107785, Type: B-26 C45

Destination: Heidelberg, Germany

Mission: Bombing railroad bridge

MACR: 13261

Date of death: March 22 1945

Status: killed in action

Place of death: Heidelberg, Germany

Awards: Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters

Gravenumber: Plot A, Row 39, Grave 52

Other information: 1st Lt Sylvester B. Goeke enlisted at Fort Thomas Newport, Kentucky on July 31, 1941. He attended Greenville High School.

Statement from 1st Lt Ingham, Pilot, Position No. 2 – Plane No. 30: “Just as bombs went away, I saw gas streaming from the right wing tank, close to the fuselage. Five seconds later, the left wheel dropped into down position. No. 7 then levelled off and started a descending turn to the right. Until that time, No. 27 seemed to be under control. As soon as I saw the wheel come down I prepared to take over the lead.”

Statement from Captain John G. Gammill: “A/C. Battle #27, was hit over the target by flak in the left engine. It dropped its bombs on the target, fell out of formation to the right, going into a dive. The nose wheel lowered just before the dive commenced. Three men emerged and opened chutes while A/C was in dive. The A/C crashed and exploded at (W) R-7582. Two chutes landed in Heidelberg and one landed in wooded area at (W) R-7182.”

1st Lt Goeke didn’t bail out. The cockpit was in flames and he probably burned before he could get free. A crew member was told by a German woman that three burned bodies were found in the front of the plane and one unburned in the tail. The plane broke apart on the way down and the tail was about half a mile from the rest of the fuselage.

Gale W. Cultice, service number 35507011

Age: 23

Born: Oct. 8, 1921, Ohio

Hometown: Darke County, Ohio

Family: Gabriel B. Cultice (father), Martha A. (McGriff) Cultice (mother), Arlo D. Cultice (brother), Lela N. (Bryant) Cultice (sister), Lois J. Cultice (wife), Gale D. Cultice (son)

Rank: Private

Regiment: 28th Infantry Regiment

Division – Transport: 8th Infantry Division

Date of death: Dec. 12, 1944

Status: finding of death

Place of death: Bergstein, Germany

Awards: Purple Heart

Gravenumber: Plot A, Row 21, Grave 4

Other information: Pvt. Gale W. Cultice enlisted in Fort Thomas Newport, Kentucky, on Aug. 8, 1942. and sent overseas in October. His Company held a combat post near Bergstein, Germany, which was attacked for 30 minutes by the enemy.

Edward F. Jefferis Jr., service number O-791596

Born: 1916, Ohio

Hometown: Darke County, Ohio

Family: Edward F. Jefferis (father), Julia (Gutman) Jefferis (wife)

Rank: First Lieutenant

Function: Navigator

Company – Squadron: 450th Bomber Squadron

Unit – Group: 322nd Bomber Group, Medium

Plane data: Serial number: 41-17979, Type: B-26B-4-MA

Destination: IJmuiden, the Netherlands

Mission: Bombing of the power plant

Date of death: May 17, 1943

Status: killed in action

Place of death: Castricum, the Netherlands

Awards: Purple Heart

Gravenumber: Plot C, Row 34, Grave 1

Other information: Only the third element of the leading flight remained. Lt F.H. Matthew, leading E.R. Norton and apparently lost, turned to join Lt Col Purinton’s flight, but Purinton too had no idea where he was. Forty five miles into Holland he decided to turn for home and his navigator, Lt Jefferis, gave him a course of 2700. Almost simultaneously Jefferis reported that he had sighted the target. Bombs were dropped on what they thought it would be the Haarlem works, but it was in fact a gas holder in the suburbs of Amsterdam. Having climbed to bombing altitude several Marauders failed to reduce height as they headed for the coast. Unknown to the crews they were heading directly towards IJmuiden and its murderous flak barrage. Purinton’s bomber was hit, but he managed to ditch offshore near a fishing boat, manned by Germans. Jefferis was killed in the crash, but the rest of the crew were rescued to become prisoners of war. Edward Jefferis washed ashore near Castricum and was initially buried there.

Family members of local soldiers mentioned above are encouraged to contact The Daily Advocate for a future story.

Pictured looking at names on the Tablets of the Missing are some of the estimated 25,000 people who visited the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Netherlands, in May 2015 for the inaugural The Faces of Margraten tribute.
https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_Margraten-2.jpgPictured looking at names on the Tablets of the Missing are some of the estimated 25,000 people who visited the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Netherlands, in May 2015 for the inaugural The Faces of Margraten tribute.
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