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Dutch teenager honoured for adopting soldiers’ graves
Named a Kentucky Colonel
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
FORT KNOX - Sixteen-year old Sebastiaan Vonk has been appointed Kentucky Colonel, which is the highest honourary title bestowed upon individuals by approval of the governor of Kentucky. In the history of the award, Vonk is only the second person under 18 to be named a Kentucky Colonel.
For more than two years, Vonk has taken care of graves of three U.S. service members in American War cemeteries: Lawrence F. Shea at Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands, Pvt. Charles Brinkley (of the 80th Infantry Division) in Henri-Chapelle, Bel-gium and Richard A. Wertheim at the American cemetery Ardennes, Belgium. Requests for information from the relatives of Pvt. Brinkley about their loved one, led to regular correspondence and eventually to the invitation to visit them in the U.S., where he received a warm welcome.
Already certified by the Adopt a Grave program at age 13, Vonk was asked to take a suit along for an official function but had no idea what that was all about. In addition becoming a Kentucky Colonel, he was named A Patriot of ‘76 by the National Sojournes, and also received the Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service from the U.S. Army. As well, he was appointed an Honorary Member of the 81st Armor Regiment, and on behalf of the 80th Infantry Division Association he was presented the American flag, which had been flown above the Capitol of de USA on July 10, 2009.
The Dutch teenager told his hosts that he visits the graves to show respect for these men. Grave adoption includes visiting soldiers’ graves a few times each year and sometimes bringing flowers to place in front of the markers.
Vonk has been interested in war history for several years. He learned about adopting World War II veterans’ graves on the Internet and decided he, too, wanted to honour soldiers who fought to free Europe from tyranny.
During his two-week visit with Brinkley’s family, Vonk also was taken to a VA-hospital where he saw the ongoing effects of soldiers wounded in action of whom some are still suffering from WWII injuries.
World War II veterans attended Vonk’s recognition event in Kentucky along with family members of World War II veteran Charles Brinkley, whose grave Vonk looks after.
The American Battlefield Monument Commission in Arlington, VA, a federal agency that maintains American cemeteries in foreign countries, cares for 125,000 graves at 24 cemeteries abroad as well as 25 monuments and memorials in 15 countries.