Independence Day: Joys of freedom dear to those who feared its loss

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 4, 2014 

Independence Day means a lot to us. To be free is really awesome.

We lost our beloved country of Holland.

I was there when Rotterdam was bombed on May 10,1940. England's prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, had just recently come back from Duitschland and waved his document from Hitler, announcing, "Peace in our time." Really? Just days later the German planes, tanks and soldiers were everywhere. I saw it.

It is very interesting that this week it is exactly 100 years ago that World War I began.

The U.S. lost some 100,000 men and the world lost some 10 million lives 1914-1918. With World War II we lost 405,349 U.S. lives in 1940-1945. Some 20 million plus lives were lost world wide.

Just this month we remember also the attack by the U.S. and Allies on Hitler and his Nazis at Normandy, France's beaches, June 6-7, 1944, 70 years ago. It still took 11 months before we were liberated on May 5, 1945, in the Netherlands.

For five years we experienced the horrors of war. We were put out of our Christian school to be used as a war machine nerve center. We lived close by a railroad, a main ryks highway and a Ijssel river. There were continuous sky wars between Germany and England, constant bombings and attacks from English planes on German convoys. The V1 and V2 rockets were being shot to London from our area.

We lived on a vegetable, flower and fruit farm with 20 greenhouses and a large warehouse. Miraculously, we never got hit.

The Germans needed food and they would steal it. We were protected by the Germans, and by God. They needed us. They would raid us, searched our house and greenhouses. The underground resistance operations were well hidden. We had radio England, my dad was contact between two major cities and England. As a little kid I was put at a strategic place to watch for Germans and the SS police. Immediately I had to warn the underground workers.

In 1944 many Dutch starved of hunger and thousands of Jews and young men were hurtled into box cars for Germany.

But, by the grace of God, liberation came to our city on May, 1945. The Canadian wing of the Allied forces came through our streets with tanks and army trucks. The population was ecstatic. The young women climbed on top of the tanks and hugged the liberators. The red, white and blue flags, now waving high, came out of hiding along with the orange streakers, to honor our royal house, which was in hiding in England.

Thankful for the liberation? Thankfully liberated! Better believe it. I saw America planes drop food from the skies and Canadian soldiers in our streets. Where would we be without America? Probably speaking German somewhere. We were made free from a horrible tyranny.

The first ship, June 1947, out of Rotterdam with 1,001 Dutch immigrants for the promised land was the VS Waterman, a troop ship. My mom and dad with five kids, of which I was oldest, were on that ship. My parents prayed a lot, on their knees, to protect us. Dad said let us have a new beginning, God helping us.

Well, independence, 1776 and all the way up to 2014. Will we keep it, or lose it? Let us remember 1776 and all the years following through many wars, sweat, blood and tears. Let us remember all the beautiful vets, their families, all the sacrifices and all our patriotic leaders. Let us thank our almighty God for his gracious love and true freedom. May we pray for our military and leaders today, so that, as the Holy Bible, the good book, says, God says, "righteousness will exalt the nation."

You all have a great Independence Day with thankfulness to almighty God for this great country, its defenders and its free people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Van Hemert of Lynden is an associate pastor of Hope in Christ Church in Bellingham, which supports his ministry to those aboard ships at sea.

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