May 21, 2018

Minnesota Faces of Margraten: "The Biggest Gift"

Medtronic employees and retirees in the Netherlands and the United States team up on a unique project to honor American war heroes.

Linda Partridge of St. Cloud, Minn., was just three weeks old when her father, 28-year-old Lieutenant Norman E. Twetten, died in combat during World War II. Twetten perished on April 10, 1945, just days after learning his daughter had been born. As Linda grew up, memories of her father were kept quietly tucked away. The grief was just too much for her mother, Lorraine, to talk about.

“I was never sure how much my mother really wanted to share,” Linda said. “Even as children we knew she had gone through so much. So we didn’t ask questions. It was just a different time. People didn’t do grief then. You just moved on.”

That all changed recently when Linda got a phone call, out of the blue, asking for a picture of her dad.

“That call changed everything for me. It absolutely blows me away,” she said.

The call came from Minnesota Faces of Margraten, a joint project by Medtronic employees and retirees in the Netherlands and the United States, to locate photographs of all 234 Minnesota soldiers memorialized at the Netherlands American Cemetery near the village of Margraten. Thanks to Minnesota Faces of Margraten, Linda’s favorite picture of her father now stands beside his gravesite in the Netherlands.

“To know that his grave and his sacrifice is being honored, by people so far away, is a great comfort to me,” she said.

The Minnesota Faces of Margraten is a companion project to the larger Faces of Margraten, which began three years ago in the Netherlands. The program proved so popular, its volunteers have already located pictures of nearly 6,000 of the 10,023 American soldiers buried or memorialized at the cemetery. The pictures are displayed during the Netherlands Memorial Day in early May.

“It’s just so much more powerful when you see the actual photos next to the graves,” said program chairman Sebastiaan Vonk. “You’re not just looking at a gravestone anymore, you’re actually looking at people, and they are looking back at you.”

Faces of Margraten continues a remarkable Dutch tradition of honoring the Americans who died liberating the Netherlands. When the war ended, Dutch citizens in the Margraten area adopted every one of the 10,023 American gravesites or tributes in the Netherlands American Cemetery. Even today, adopters visit and care for the gravesites, as if the fallen are their own. The gravesite adoptions are often passed down from one generation to the next, and there’s even a waiting list to adopt one.

“What I realized during this research is that a lot of people in America do not know how their graves are being tended to and taken care of by the local people here in Margraten,” said Joek Hulsmann, a Medtronic employee from nearby Maastricht who leads the Minnesota Faces of Margraten project in the Netherlands. “They do not realize that the memory of their loved one is kept so alive here.”

Dutch adopters like Arie Jan Vanhees credit American liberators with their very existence.

“If the Allies hadn’t invaded Europe, my father would never have been liberated from his forced labor camp and I never would have been born,” he said.

Patricia Mertz takes a picture every time she visits the gravesite of Minnesota’s Louis Glavan. In 1946, her father — grateful for his liberation from a forced work camp — and his soon-to-be-wife, adopted Glavan’s grave. After more than 60 years, they handed the honor down to their daughter.

“I do it especially for the relatives, the loved ones of Louis and all the other soldiers,” she said. “And I do it for Tony, since I met Tony I know how important it is for him and his family.”

“Tony” is Tony Glavan, a retired Medtronic employee in Coon Rapids, Minn. who has done extensive research into his family’s sacrifice in the war. Two of his uncles died fighting in Germany and his father was wounded. Glavan spearheads the United States side of the project to find Minnesota Faces of Margraten. The Faces of Margraten program already located photographs for 146 of the 234 Minnesota soldiers honored at the cemetery in Margraten. Research by the Dutch and American volunteers for Minnesota Faces of Margraten found 61 others, leaving just 27 to go. Glavan is the one who made that call to Linda Partridge, looking for a picture of her dad.

 “I wanted to help share that story with the relatives we contacted that their loved ones have not been forgotten. And the Dutch go to great lengths to honor their memory. I really had to share that with these relatives,” Glavan said.

Thanks to Glavan and Minnesota Faces of Margraten, Linda now has a connection, to a place she’s never seen, and people she’s never met, who are helping her appreciate and honor the father she never knew.

“I'm overwhelmed and I'm grateful and I'm so humbled by it,” she said. “It’s probably the biggest gift that’s ever been given to me.”

Although Minnesota Faces of Margraten focuses on soldiers from Minnesota, organizers are glad to receive information about pictures of any soldiers buried at Margraten. Minnesota Faces of Margraten is still seeking photographs of these 27 Minnesota soldiers who died in World War II:

Aldrich, Louis T.
Arnold, Levi A.
Bajula, John R.
Chester, Lewis H.
Christensen, Holger R.
Detlefsen, John
Ellerbusch, Herbert W.
Evans, Roy W.
Johnson, Leonard M.
Kayute, Marvin E.
Kosloski, Paul L.
Lambrecht, Alexander
Lehmann, Monroe J.
Ligaard, Herburne W.

Moen, Richard S.
Nason, Charles M.
Nelson, Percy
Peterson, Lloyd M.
Phillips, Hymen
Reichenbach, Theodore
Sahlberg, Raymond E.
Schneider, Elmer E.
Scott, James W.
Tate, Robert J.
Westlund, Clarence R.
Wolstein, Isadore
Young, Gerald E.

Minnesota Faces of Margraten (in the U.S.) Tony Glavan
Minnesota Faces of Margraten (in the Netherlands)

Faces of Margraten (Netherlands)