EINDHOVEN, Netherlands — Ending the war before Christmas was the plan in mind when American, British and Polish troops boarded aircraft and flew across the English Channel into the Netherlands to conduct Operation Market Garden on Sept. 17, 1944. The mission was an attempt to pierce the German defenses by capturing key positions throughout the Netherlands. Success would have put the Allies closer to invading Germany and in position to possibly end the war in Europe six months earlier.
However, the overall operation was deemed a failure. The Allies were unable to capture all their objectives and lost more than 15,000 troops after nine days of intense fighting.
Yet seven decades later, thousands of people gathered in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to remember those men who gave everything during Operation Market Garden.
“Many people lost their lives to free the Netherlands,” said Royal Netherlands air force Capt. Marco Flock, 336th Squadron C-130H pilot. “We can never forget their sacrifice. That’s why we have this commemoration every year.”
Just as Allies came together all those years ago to liberate Europe, they come together every year for this observance. This year, paratroopers from eight nations boarded aircraft to re-enact the jumps made during the first steps to liberate occupied Netherlands.
“It’s been historical to be a part of this,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Luis R. Rodriguez, 82nd Airborne Division U.S. Army Advance Airborne School senior instructor. “I’m a paratrooper through and through. This is all I’ve known for the past 20 years, and there’s no place I’d rather be. Getting the chance to travel here and see the significance and importance of what the 82nd has established over 70 years ago really make us appreciate what our forefathers have done for us.”
Service members from throughout the Air Force and Army were part of the group that traveled to Eindhoven to participate in the ceremonies. Aircrew and C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron took part in the commemoration by providing airdrop capabilities.
The 37th AS’s history is deeply rooted in World War II. At the time, the 37th AS was designated as the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron. On the first day of Operation Market Garden, 23 C-47 Skytrains from the 37th TCS successfully dropped paratroopers and parapacks throughout the Netherlands. In the days that followed they reinforced the operation by towing gliders loaded with Soldiers, ammunition and combat equipment to landing zones.
“I’ve always thought World War II history was fascinating,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Nathan Hedden, 37th AS C-130J Super Hercules pilot. “Being able to come out and see the places where things happened and be a part of a re-enactment was a lot of fun for me. It was eye opening to me to see how important Operation Market Garden was to the Dutch. There were about 20,000 people at the drop zone watching people jump out of airplanes. I’ve never seen anything like that — even back in the United States. It was amazing to me that the Dutch hold the operation to such esteem.”
Remembering the sacrifices made is an important aspect of the commemoration, but looking forward is also significant.
“It’s important we remind people we worked together 70 years ago and we can still work together today,” Hedden said. “There are a lot of problems in the world, and no one country can solve them alone. You need allies. The more we work together on these commemorative operations, which are basically training exercises, the better prepared we are when it comes down to the real deal and we have to defend someone’s freedom and civil liberties.”
A failure all those years ago now brings people together to celebrate, honor the lives lost and grow stronger as allies. If Operation Market Garden is measured by the impact it has made to millions of people, then it was a success.