DIXFIELD — Staff Sgt. Donald E. Savage was one of many American soldiers who were killed as their planes flew over the English Channel in 1943 during World War II.
The 1939 Dixfield High School graduate joined the United States Army Air Force in 1942, said his sister, Frances Carlton. The family didn’t learn that he had been killed until early 1944 when a telegram arrived at their parent’s home.
They had first received a telegram saying that he was missing in action on Nov. 11, 1943.
Earlier this month, Carlton, 87, Dixfield, and her sister, Hazel Kennedy, 92, Mexico, learned that a man from Holland is regularly visiting Savage’s grave and placing flowers on it.
“We feel wonderful. It’s an honor,” said Carlton as she leafed through photos, e-mails and letters from Chris van der Linden, a 36-year-old maintenance gardener from the town of Wavereen, just outside of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
“I’m glad someone knew about him and cares,” Kennedy said. “The Dutch people pulled him out of the water.”
Savage is one of more than 8,000 American soldiers who are buried in The Netherlands American Cemetery near Margraten.
Van der Linden, in an e-mail, said he often visited the Margraten cemetery and learned in 2004 that his people could adopt an American grave. He said he is a member of a study group that documents the nearly 6,000 planes that were downed over Holland during the war.
“The crash of Savage was special because the plane went down in the neighborhood of my girlfriend’s hometown. From that time on, I was looking for information about him,” van der Linden wrote.
Van der Linden and Savage also share the same birthdate — June 30.
He said all 8,301 graves are now adopted as well as the names of soldiers on The Wall of the Missing.
“Donald Savage and Margraten cemetery has taken a special place in my heart. It’s the ultimate chance to pay respect to the men who are responsible for our freedom,” van der Linden wrote.
Savage was one of four children born to Homer and Lena Savage. A sister, Nellie Beach, is deceased.
With the help of another adopter of American servicemen graves, Reinoud Smeets, van der Linden was eventually able to contact Ludden Memorial Library librarian, Peggy Malley, who then forwarded the inquiry to Carlton and Kennedy.
“This was a first for me, to get two people together,” Malley said.
Usually, she deletes foreign e-mails because they are often scams. But something about the subject line caught her eye so she kept reading.
She talked with deputy Town Clerk Charlotte Collins about the names in the e-mail, who told her that Carlton was Savage’s sister.
Malley then gave the information to Carlton.
“He (van der Linden) was so happy I had found these people,” Malley said.
Kennedy served in the Women’s Army Corps for a short time in 1942-43, but left the service when she was told that she couldn’t have time off to see her brother before he shipped out.
“We had that one week together,” Kennedy said.
The two sisters visited The Netherlands American Cemetery in the 1970s.
“That cemetery is beautiful. Anyone has to go to Holland to see it,” Carlton said.
The recent adoption of American servicemen graves is the second time the Dutch people have cared for the graves.
Soon after the war ended in 1945, a Dutch couple adopted Savage’s grave and kept in contact with the sisters’ parents for a while. Carlton doesn’t know what happened later.
Both sisters, as well as their niece, Lynn Berube of Auburn, are exchanging letters or e-mails about Savage.
Van der Linden said his next visit to Savage’s grave will be on Memorial Day when he will lay flowers on it.
More information on the American cemetery can be found on www.fallennotforgotten.nl or www.adoptiegraven-margraten.nl/englisch/index1.htm