Family from Netherlands goes above and beyond to honor fallen US soldier
By Patricia Buschette
In May 2017, Oscar Priem and Myranda Houben, along with their 8-year-old son Max, were given the opportunity to adopt a war grave. They family, who lives in Maastricht, Netherlands, had signed up years earlier, but because there was a great desire of so many to honor the graves of those who defended the Netherlands in World War II, they had to wait until their application was considered.
Near Maastricht is a large 65-acre American military cemetery called Margraten. The beautiful American cemetery includes a courtyard and a memorial tower with a chapel. The burial area is divided into 16 plots where lie 8,291 fallen. Here in a land far from Hector, Minnesota, the birthplace of PFC Howard Dodge, an American war hero, was laid to rest in May of 1945.
Through research and online sources, it was learned that Dodge served in the 75th Infantry Division, 291st Infantry Regiment. According to military records, on May 21, 1945, he “experienced a critical situation which resulted in the loss of life.”
For Oscar and Myranda, the desire to honor the heroes who gave their lives for their freedom was important, and they took their son Max to visit Normandy to better understand the war. It was this experience that evoked in 8-year-old Max questions about the war and about Howard Dodge. He wanted to know if there was still family alive. He wanted to show them that he was taking care of the grave and to tell them of his gratitude for what Howard and other war heroes did for the people of the Netherlands. Max wanted to learn more about Howard’s military background, and where he landed in Europe. While the family did not know whether PFC Howard Dodge had been at Normandy, the family brought sand from Normandy beaches and laid it on his grave.
Oscar began his search for the Dodge family on the Internet. He had learned where Howard Dodge was born, and sent emails to the town halls, mayors and libraries in the area. No one could help them in the quest to find the family. That’s when he contacted me.
It would be impossible to re-create the timeline of the search process. It involved searching the records of the Renville County Historical Society and Museum, and local Legion posts. Countless hours were spent online in an attempt to create a genealogy of the Dodge family, sending letters and making online inquiries. Every promising source seemed to evaporate. While newspaper and magazine articles were filled with stories of Dutch families who searched for the families of their liberators, there seem to be a sense of suspicion and unwillingness to share information.
The next attempt was to make the search public through area newspapers. A story of the effort appeared in the Renville County Register, the Fairfax Standard-Gazette, the Hector News-Mirror and the Redwood Gazette.
Finally, on June 18, 2019, Oscar received an e-mail message from the United States. Members of the Dodge family had read the article in the Redwood Falls Gazette and contacted Howard Dodge’s brother, Homer, informing him of the search. A granddaughter was asked to make contact with the Netherlands, and using the e-mail provided, she emailed Oscar.
While there has been little contact from the Dodge family, Max was very excited that the family had been found. According to his father, Max just wanted to let the family know he was taking care of Howard Dodge’s grave so they would know he would never be forgotten. The family continued to send photographs and updates on the care of the grave. To hear from them would be a bonus, Oscar said.
Oscar explained that the family was unable to visit the grave the last year. Because of COVID-19, Margraten was closed. Normally they bring flowers on Howard’s birthday (Sept. 19) and the date of his death (May 21), as well as Christmas, the 4th of July, and the 5th of May -- the date of Dutch liberation.
While Dodge family members have been identified, establishing shared communication has been limited. However, photographs and updates have been provided. Homer Dodge, brother of Howard Dodge, did reach out for a brief introduction.
For a family in the Netherlands, the primary purpose of their effort is to honor a war hero. We can honor them and PFC Howard Dodge by applauding that admirable effort.