Journey to Meet a Friend, Caretaker
LOWELL -- It’s been nearly a month since Laurie McAnespie met the man who adopted her late grandfather’s grave at a cemetery in the Netherlands, and the Lowell resident still struggles to describe the moment.
“It was really surreal. I never thought I would be there,” McAnespie said earlier this week. “I never knew anything about the adoption program, so to be able to set something up so quickly to meet him was kind of amazing. I thought he was such a great guy, really caring.”
On Oct. 13, McAnespie and a few of her lifelong friends met Pierre Erens, the man who has been looking after the grave of James J. Callery, McAnespie’s late paternal grandfather.
Callery died in 1944 while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II and was laid to rest at the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, since 1945, members of the local community have adopted the grave sites of the fallen soldiers buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, the only American military cemetery in the Netherlands. The locals call the soldiers their liberators.
Growing up in Dracut, McAnespie knew very little about her late grandfather because he wasn’t talked about much out of respect for her grandmother’s new husband.
McAnespie said she and her friends drove for more than two hours from Amsterdam for the meeting with Erens at the cemetery. It was a beautiful day with about 75 degree weather, she said. Before arriving at the cemetery, the friends bought some flowers to lay beside Callery’s grave -- red and white roses with a royal blue hydrangea in the middle.
Erens, who lives in a small town called Schinveld, adopted Callery’s grave a few months ago. This is the second grave he has looked after.
“It was so marvelous to meet Laurie,” Erens said in an email Thursday. “We had a lovely afternoon together with her 3 girlfriends and my wife Sylvia.”
Erens struggled to find words to describe what it meant for him to meet a family member of the American soldier whose grave he adopted. He recalled both he and McAnespie having tears in their eyes.
McAnespie said she learned from Erens that there is a long list of locals waiting to be able to adopt a grave. “Which is pretty amazing to me,” she said, adding that locals also adopt those soldiers who are unknown. She also found that touching.
After reciting a prayer and spending some time at Callery’s grave, McAnespie said she signed a guest book at the cemetery and was presented with some certificates to bring back to her father, James T. Callery. The group then went out for coffee.
From the experience, McAnespie gained a new friend. She and Erens now keep in touch on Facebook, and he has connected to her other family members through the social media network.
Asked how long he will be adopting the grave for, Erens said for the rest of his life.
“I hope that my children will adopt his grave later,” he added. “There isn’t a time limit.”
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.