As a child I was fascinated by the Second World War. Why? I do not know. Perhaps by the stories told by my family. For example, an aunt of my mother who was locked up in a camp during the war. On her arm she had a sloppy tattoo. Curious and yet a little afraid, we looked at the numbers as a child. Maybe my interest came because of my grandmother, who lived in Waddinxveen (Netherlands), and had seen the ashes falling down the sky on cars and cows after Rotterdam (Netherlands) was bombed, or by stories about the bombing they experienced by themselves. My grandfather and grandmother who where hiding for the enemy, later together with my father who was just born. Or was it my grandpa who said he had to exchange milk for potato skins so my mother could eat. And he grew his own tobacco, so he could smoke.
My grandparents lived in Boskoop (Netherlands) where my grandfather had his own tree plantation. You could often find me there when I was young. On one day I was rooting through the earth and found a helmet. It proved to be an American helmet. Somewhat startled my grandfather searched the area to see if there was anything else buried. From that day the search for World War II traces didn’t let go.
It later became more professional. I bought my first metal detector. I visited the famous battlefields in the Netherlands and Belgium. Wonderful and interesting things I found there. On the Internet I’ve seen stories from people who had found 'dogtags'. It was through these 'tags' a soldier could be identified in case the worst should happen. Reading those articles the question arose: What happened to the soldier who the tags belonged to? Is he still alive, dead, buried or worse, is he missing?
What 'missing' meant for the families, I’ve learned later.
My wife's grandfather been betrayed and was arrested by the Germans. Because the Germans thought that he did something wrong, by participating in arms droppings (in the Krim, Overijssel, Netherlands) and hiding the arms on a farm, they locked him in the "House of Detention“, in Almelo (Netherlands). Until there, my wife's family knew where he was. From Almelo he went to a labor camp, and this is where he died. Through the efforts of the Red Cross, he was eventually found in a mass grave. After positive identification, he was buried at the Dutch war cemetery in Loenen (Netherlands). This made it possible for my mother-in-law with her mother and sisters to visit her husbands grave.
When Tino Dam approached me to set up a foundation with the goal to trace missing soldiers, I didn’t hesitate one minute. After World War II, the government promised to do everything they could to trace the dead and missing soldiers and providing them a dignified resting place. Nowadays, not much seems noticeable of this promise. Through new circulars, imposed by the government, it becomes increasingly difficult to actively search for missing persons. For various aircraft wrecks it is known where they crashed and that there could still be missing persons inside. But because of financial reasons the government will not recover those aircraft, except when relatives explicitly asks for it. Unfortunately relatives often don’t know about these field graves…
No, remembrance in the Netherlands is limited to a few television commercials two weeks before May 4 and 5, followed by the climax; the commemoration of May 4 (Remember those who fought and/or died for our freedom) and May 5 (WWII Liberation of the Netherlands). The fact that we need to remember is obvious and it’s a nice gesture to commemorated. But where the government is failing its promise, we as a foundation will, where possible, make every effort to trace WWII missing personnel.
Peter Mulder, 2008
Secretary Stichting Missing in Action (MIA), Netherlands
Since April 2018 Peter Mulder is an official Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) volunteer.
He earned this badge during one of the DPAA and Stichting Missing In Action MIA joint efforts bringing home a missing soldier.