The city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands lay still in the sleep of morning. The noisy burr of motorbikes and the gentle whirr of bicycles were distinctly absent. All was still and dark on the Saturday morning before Christmas, 1959. All was still, that is, except for four people, four Americans awake and stirring in the Netherlands—Bob and I, and our two young sons.

This was no ordinary Saturday morning for us. Christmas vacation had begun for the boys and we were planning a one-day trip into Germany. Nijmegen is close to the German border, and one may see a great deal on a one-day excursion into it.

But today, the Saturday before Christmas, was to be different. We were not going into Germany to see the Cologne Cathedral with its two graceful spires pointing to the sky. Nor were we going to Düsseldorf, shiny and bright as a new penny. We were going to see three tiny villages in the Ruhr Valley—three drab villages which I’m quite sure many Germans have never heard of, let alone Americans. Who knows or cares about Puffendorf, Ederen, or Linnich when Europe is packed full of magnificent things to see? And why visit unknown villages when you have only 10 months to spend in Europe?

The answer was that these were Bob’s 10 months. He had come to the Netherlands as a Fulbright Research Scholar. Naturally we would be seeing the famous sights of Europe, but these three villages in the Ruhr Valley meant something to him, for he had lived in them in 1944—he and the big Army howitzers. Now, after 15 years, he wanted to retrace his war steps; he wanted to see the three villages again.

Furthermore, there was another thing he wanted to see—Margraten. Margraten was the huge American War Cemetery near Maastricht in the Netherlands where one of ...

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