Service members, families attend Kindergraves memorial

Story and photo by Airman 1st Class Trevor Rhynes
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

More than 50 service members and their families attended the Kindergraves memorial service May 19 in Kaiserslautern.

The memorial service is held annually the week following Mother’s Day to honor the children who weren’t able to be buried in America, as well as to pay respect to their parents. Children buried here were no more than 12 months old, and most died of various childhood diseases or birth complications.

“One reason children were buried here was because the policy of the government at the time restricted the movement of the deceased back to America,” said Terence Delay, former Kindergraves chairman. “Second, families who couldn’t afford to send their child back home were offered the opportunity to have their child buried here.

“Parents were members of the Department of Defense, most coming from the Army, other from the Air Force or Department of Defense civilian families,” he continued. “The first child passed away in 1952. Over the course of 20 years, there were 451 children buried here.”

Care for the children’s graves was handled by different organizations in the area.

“The partnership between the Ramstein Areas Chief’s Group and the German-American and International Women’s Club Kaiserslautern formed, and at that time, the Kaiserslautern Kindergraves memorial foundation was created,” Delay said. “The sheer purpose of our mission was to ensure the survival and maintenance of the graves.

“Currently, every two to three weeks we’re out here with a group of volunteers from around the KMC to keep the site in pristine condition,” he continued.
For one military spouse, seeing the graves with her children gave her a new outlook on being a military dependent.

“I brought my kids out here to remind them that life for children with parents in the military wasn’t always so easy,” said Krista Novak, wife of Army Sgt. Maj. Bryan Novak, 21st Theater Sustainment Command human resources (G-1) sergeant major. “I felt it was important for my kids to know about the tradition of caring for these kids who weren’t able to be brought back to America to be buried.”

The annual memorial gives an opportunity for service members and families to pay respect to those children who couldn’t be brought home.

“Every year we have a memorial ceremony for them. It gives us a chance to reflect on the challenges and contributions of these military families and the sacrifices they’ve made,” Delay said. “This is a community event, which we’ve brought members of the military and civilian communities together. It’s a celebration of these children’s lives.”