On September 9 Yelm celebrates it’s third annual Patriot Day. I offer the story below as a small token of my gratitude to all American Patriots.
I grew up in the Netherlands. I must have been around ten years old when we did a project at school about World War II. That evening after dinner, my father was heading for his favorite couch when all of a sudden he stopped, not sure if what he saw was really there, or if his imagination was playing tricks on him. As a fine artist, his visual sense highly acute, he saw what others might have missed. There it was on the floor, the faint outline of a swastika. To him this was the symbol of evil. He paused.
Hitler and other Nazis wearing swastikas
For the school project I had drawn and cut out a swastika and spray painted it. I hadn’t realized that an ever so slight outline had been left behind on the floor. I explained to him what had happened and his anger quickly disappeared. He sighed as he sat down and began talking, his voice slightly louder and in a tone that my many siblings and I all recognized as the beginning of a story. In the blink of an eye we all gathered around him. As the sun was setting in the background over the river Spaarne he began.
To my father telling stories came as easy as breathing and many a night we were hanging on his every word as he told about his travels to France, Spain, Greece, and many other far away places. He told us how, sometimes unable to speak the local language, he communicated with his sketch book, drawing pictures of what he wanted. Often people eagerly exchanged his drawings for the things they represented. He also told us about the time he arrived in a small village in the country side of Morocco when the people were so excited to see a foreigner that they started bringing things out from all of their houses and put together a feast right in the middle of main street. Other times he would take us along into dark and mysterious adventures that would have us yell out at the top of our voice when he impersonated the cries of a hideous monster that he had just described. Sometimes my mother told him to go a little easier on the scary stuff because my younger sisters were too afraid to turn off the light in their bed room afterwards.
This time it was different. His tone was a little more matter-of-fact. He was a little more serious. He told us about a monster that was uglier than any in his horror stories. That night I got a first hand history lesson beyond anything that I would learn from a school project. So let me retell it in my own words.
My parents: Poppe and Tine Damave around the time they got married
Shortly after my father, a fine artist, and my mother, a competitive diver and swimming instructor, got married, the Nazis invaded Holland. As foreign invaders and occupiers they ruled the country with arrogance and brutality. The only ones more hated than the Nazis were the Dutch collaborators that helped them implement their regime and hoped to gain from it. As the war went on, the Germans started rounding up the Jews to put them in concentration camps, and later they started rounding up all able bodied men to be recruited in the German army, or work in their ammunition factories. The only way to escape this was to disappear. And so my father built a false wall in his house to create a small invisible room for himself. He only left the house on moonless nights. The dark provided excellent cover because the Germans had ordered all windows to be perfectly sealed and forbade the use of street lights. This was to deny the pilots of the British bombers any navigational clues on their way from England to Germany.
Although the Germans seemed invincible, their brutality and arrogance inspired an underground uprising throughout Europe, known as the Resistance. My father became part of the Resistance using his skills as an artist to forge the ID cards that the Germans required the people to carry. He became a skilled forger using, for example a simple blue pencil to draw the German stamps. He told to us that one of his tricks was to add a faint second outline as if the stamp had bounced off the paper. The false IDs were used by people to get to freedom.
Towards the end of the war the Resistance focused on maintaining morale. One of the ways this was done was to help the people prepare for the arrival of the liberating armies, mostly American. For this purpose the Resistance created a welcome card to be handed to the friendly troops. I used one of those cards for my school project and was surprised to recently find it in a box of photographs.
The card printed by the Dutch Resistance
I thought about how the card had made the opposite journey of those American soldiers as it traveled with me from the Netherlands to the United States. How close it now was to some of those WWII heroes that it had been intended for all those years ago. It became crystal clear to me that I had to let this little card fulfill its destiny. And I knew just the guy to give it to.
Not long before, my wife Mayra and I had visited with Don and Char Miller. Don had told us then about his years in the service as a communications officer. He was stationed in the Pacific, mostly sending and receiving encrypted messages.
The author and Yelm City Councilman and WWII veteran Don Miller
By giving this card to Don, I thank all of those brave men and women that played their part in beating the Nazis, in particularly the 6000 that gave their lives liberating the Netherlands in doing so. They helped create a world where most of us are free to follow our spiritual persuasion; a world where I am free to travel to a small American country town, home of a most unusual school, to follow mine.