In the Memory of the Valor and the Sacrifices which Hallow this Soil

The title of this post is a quote engraved in the Marble reception hall of the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten in the Netherlands.

The cemetery was created in October 1944 under the leadership of Joseph Shomon of the 611th Graves Registration Company as the Ninth United States Army pushed into the Netherlands from France and Belgium. American casualties from the area and those that fell in Germany were buried there (as Americans could not be buried permanently in enemy territory).

A few years ago, we were allowed to scatter the ashes of our Father here.

In the past, I have written about some of the heroes buried here. This piece is about one of the heroes that dug the graves.

Jefferson Wiggins was 16 years old when he was recruited in his home town of Dothan to go to Europe with the US Army.

He grew up in a peasant home on land that his father rented from a wealthy landowner. He hardly enjoyed any education. The Ku Klux Klan ruled the area where he grew up. Once, he said, about 30 riders came to his house, threatening to kill his father. The crime: trying to sell a bale of cotton belonging to the farm’s owner to get money to feed his hungry family. The family escaped to the next county in a horse and wagon.

For Jeff, the army meant an escape, not just from a poor life without any prospects but especially from the racism he no longer wanted to endure.

Before leaving for Europe, Jeff attended military training courses in, among others, Fort Benning. He took the train to the port of New York and boarded there, along with thousands of others. While waiting weeks for his unit to board, a New York Public Library volunteer helped him improve his reading and writing.

Jeff was 18 and staff sergeant of the 960th Unit of the QMSC when he set foot in Scotland after the troubled nine-day voyage. His unit worked there, along with thousands of other African-American soldiers, in preparation for the major invasion on the European mainland, Operation Overlord, which started on June 6, 1944, D-day. African-American soldiers also landed on the beaches of Normandy, although the American media did not consciously pay attention to it. The US government did not consider that desirable.

In the autumn of 1944, the unit of the Quarter Master Service Company (QMSC), of which he was the first sergeant, was sent to the Netherlands. There he worked for weeks, day in and day out, as a grave digger at the American cemetery developed in Margraten. That was from September 1944 and immediately after the Southern part of the Netherlands was liberated. The American Army, at that time, was completely separated into black and white troops during WWII.

It was an excruciating and gruesome task It was an excruciating and gruesome task, physically and mentally, working in the vast fields filled with corpses. Some people had been dead for a few days, others for months. The bodies were mutilated and sometimes decaying. Every day trucks with new piles of corpses came to Margraten. There were no coffins, dead soldiers were put in mattress covers and buried.

At times they also buried civilians. Jeffery Wiggins later recalled.

“The first of the dead that we buried was a German girl. I remember part of her head was blown off. She had been hit by a grenade and had fifteen bullet holes in her back. According to my estimation, she had also been machine-gunned before or after a grenade attack. We transferred her from the American side of the cemetery to the ‘enemy’ section.”

“It wasn’t a hygienic job at all, and we never got completely clean. The stench hung around us for a long time when we were back in Gronsveld. It was gruesome, dirty work. Sometimes there was hot water in the school, but when there wasn’t, we heated water in our helmets, which we used as washing tubs. That’s how we washed.’

In 2009, as the guest of the Dutch government, Wiggins, then 84 and the last surviving soldier to bury the dead at Margraten, delivered the keynote address at the 65th-anniversary celebration of the liberation of the Netherlands by Allied forces during World War II. He passed away in 2013.

He wrote a book about his time during WW2, titled From Alabama to Margraten.

Dear Sir, I thank you for your services to my country.


The Ku Klux Klan in Canada

Recently I made the mistake to referring to my local petrol station, “Circle K”, as ‘Triple K’, I suppose it could be considered a Freudian slip.

I remember back in 1998 there was talk about a KKK chapter in Ennis, Ireland. Thankfully that appeared to be a false claim.

However there is this notion that the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, is a racist group that only operates in the USA. It might surprise some of you to find out that the KKK also had a presence in Canada.

In March 1922, an African American man named Matthew Bullock fled North Carolina after the Ku Klux Klan had stated he was a wanted man, accusing him of inciting riots.His brother had been killed by Klansmen, who the Toronto Star reported at the time had “threatened to send robed riders to fetch Bullock and whisk him back to the American south”.

The invasion that the Star worried about in 1922 didn’t happen until 1924, when an official path for the Ku Klux Klan of Kanada was drawn up by two American wizards and Toronto resident James L. Cowan, who rented an office on Toronto Street near Adelaide Street, and set about recruiting. By 1926, a Barrie newspaper reported that there were gatherings of hooded men in more than a dozen Ontario towns, including Barrie, Sault-St-Marie, Exeter, London, and St. Marys.

One of the most prominent groups was the Ku Klux Klan of Kanada, whose main principles of white supremacy and nationalism required members to pledge that they were white, gentile, and Protestant.

Organizers stated that the Ku Klux Klan was a Christian organization with “first allegiance to Canada and the Union Jack”, disqualifying Jews from membership because they are not Christian, and Roman Catholics because their first allegiance is to the Pope in Rome.

There were cross burnings all across southern Ontario, southern Alberta, in the Maritimes, and the primary targets were Black people, Catholics, Jews and the French. In 1926, there was an explosion at a Roman Catholic church in Barrie, Ont.; three perpetrators were sent to prison.

In the 1930s, some Klan members and leaders had moved towards fascism and Nazism, and some of the early members popped up again in fascist and Nazi-like organizations in Canada.

Although the KKK operated throughout Canada, it was most successful in Saskatchewan, where by the late 1920s its membership was over 25,000. Historian Allan Bartley states that this success was a result of opposition to liberal Government of Saskatchewan policy established by the entrenched Saskatchewan Liberal Party, which had held power in the province since its inception in 1905.

Although the Kanada Klan, many of whom even embroidered maple leaf insignias on their robes, billed itself as a kinder, gentler mob, it was responsible for violent domestic terrorism, most frequently in attempts to burn down or blow up places of worship—notably in Quebec City, Barrie and Winnipeg, the latter incident causing 10 fatalities. In Oakville, a mob of 75 hooded men burned a cross while parading through the town en route to their targeted victim, a white woman about to marry a black man, which they tried to prevent by kidnapping her. (They married anyway and lived happily ever after.) None of this even gets close to the power and fear the KKK wielded in Saskatchewan, where an extremely virulent Moose Jaw chapter thrived, influenced by aggressive franchisers from South Bend, Indiana.

T.J. Hind, the reverend of First Baptist Church in Moose Jaw, stated that one of the purposes of the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan was for the protection of the physical purity of current and future generations.

By the end of the 1930’s, however, the Klan was as good as dead as an organization in Canada, During the Second World War, fascism and Nazism became the enemy for many Canadians.

“By the time you get into the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, the only echoes you see of the Klan in Canada are basically echoes from the United States,” according to Bartley .

After a couple of decades of dormancy, the Klan made yet another resurgence in the 1960s and ’70s, spurred on by the Black civil rights movement in the U.S. and by the official adoption of multiculturalism in Canada.

David Duke, who led this resurgence in the U.S. as the Klan’s grand wizard, was also amassing a number of followers in Canada. These followers established a new Ku Klux Klan of Canada, led by James Alexander McQuirter, who became the group’s grand wizard.

Canada, like the United States, had a history of segregation. But unlike the U.S., where Jim Crow laws were officially on the books, Canadian segregation was less formal.



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