Fallen World War II soldier honored at home, overseas

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — Seventy-one years after his death fighting the Nazis in Europe, a marker was dedicated on April 29 in a South Georgia cemetery to the memory of Army Staff Sgt. Sidney Beck.

Beck grew up in Valdosta. He survived landing at Normandy on June 10, 1944, a few days after D-Day. He survived a wound at Cherbourg. He helped in the liberation of the Netherlands. He crossed the bridge at Remagen. There, in Germany, shortly before the war ended, Sidney Beck was killed April 5, 1945, likely by a single bullet from a German sniper, according to his military records.

He is buried in Margraten, the Dutch cemetery dedicated to thousands of American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II.

Beck had one child, a small son who was dead by his second birthday, just weeks before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

He has several nieces, women born after his death overseas, women who never knew their Uncle Sidney save through the stories of their parents — his siblings, through the nieces' research in recent years.

Hub and Nel Bessems of the Netherlands joined Beck's nieces and an American Legion Post 13 honor guard at the marker planted next to the graves of Beck's parents and his son in Sunset Hill Cemetery.

For the past several years, the Bessems have cared for the grave where Beck is buried in the Netherlands.

Hub Bessems spent the past few months learning to speak English for the moment. On the draft of his speech, he spelled some English words phonetically so he would pronounce them correctly as he stood at the head of Beck's memorial marker.

The emotion in his voice needed no translation.

"We are the Dutch adopters of Sidney Beck and visit his grave in the Netherlands several times a year," Bessems said. "We do that to show our gratitude for our liberation and to thank Sidney for his courage and for his sacrifice.

"The adoption program in the Netherlands, in Margraten to be precise, started in 1945 and has existed for 71 years. Last November, all 10,023 American soldiers (buried at the cemetery) were adopted. ... The adoption program links adopters in Holland and next of kin in the United States of America. It unites two countries in remembering. It unites two countries in celebrating freedom and peace. It unites two countries in telling the stories of the great offer made by all the American soldiers during the Second World War.

"These stories are supposed to inspire us and motivate us in our daily life. We must not forget them."

The Bessems adopted Beck's grave in Margraten in 2007.

The Bessems' daughter, Ingrid, is a professional videographer who films documentaries. She wanted to tell the story of the Netherlands program of caring for the graves of Americans who died during World War II. She decided to illustrate the program through her family and the story of Sidney Beck.

Ingrid Bessems visited Valdosta two years ago. She met with the nieces who include Betty Gene Birdwell, Jenny Howard, Mary Jane Rekel and Anne White.

Several months ago, Ingrid Bessems' documentary, "Our Soldier," aired on national television in the Netherlands and is scheduled to air again in May for Memorial Day.

The documentary was screened and nominated a few months ago in the United States for best heritage feature documentary in the Tribute Film Festival for Real Worthy Stories in Abilene, Texas.

Caring for the graves is a national, personal and even a family cause in the Netherlands, the Bessems said Friday.

They said they believe future generations will continue caring for the Margraten graves. The Dutch people remember the sacrifices that purchased their liberty.

Jenny Beck Howard is among the Beck nieces to visit the Bessems in the Netherlands. She said the connections of the grave adoption run even deeper.

"When we visited them, I asked their two teenage grandchildren if I came back to Holland in 20 years, would my uncle Sidney still be in their care," Howard said, "and their grandfather Hub was moved to tears when both teens said yes. We all cried a bit as Hub said, 'We are family.'"


Information from: The Valdosta Daily Times, http://valdostadailytimes.com/