On August 28, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Pastor Matthew Southall Brown, Sr. began a journey that he made some seventy-five years ago. He was headed to the countries of Belgium and The Netherlands. He would fly first class on Delta Flight 80. However, before he began this journey, there would be an unforgettable send off. Representatives from the local and national news media, the City of Atlanta, Delta Airlines TSA, The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and The Dutch Consulate would express their gratitude to Pastor Brown for his military service. Ryan Paton whose organization, Honor Flights of South Florida stated, “Pastor Brown would not enter Europe as he did as a young man many years ago.” His organization, Honor Flights, along with Delta Airlines sponsored the first class round trip flight.
In 1944 seventy five years ago, the countries of Belgium and The Netherlands were engaged in a fight for their survival. Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Army and other Axis Powers were invading these countries. Ironically, at the same time, there was an internal struggle being waged by African-American soldiers wanting to prove themselves as capable defenders of democracy. These soldiers were given the opportunity to fight in segregated units in Belgium, The Netherlands and Central Europe.
Some of these units included the 1st, 9th, 12th, 60th, 69th Infantries and the 2221 volunteer fighting force.
On August 31, 2019, a nationwide celebration of gratitude and remembrance began in the City of Terneuzen, Belgium. The National Planning Committee developed a remembrance slogan entitled 75 JAAR VRI/JHEID, which means 75 Years/Party For Freedom. In addition, the committee extended an invitation to seven veterans to participate in the grand opening of this year-long celebration. These veterans were from the countries of Poland, England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and The United States. Pastor Matthew Southall Brown, Sr. was the only African-American veteran present at the opening celebration.
Pastor Matthew Southall Brown, Sr. and the other veterans were given the royal treatment. They were greeted by local and national leaders of Belgium and the Netherlands. These leaders included top military officials, the United States Ambassadors to the Netherlands and Belgium, representatives from The Hague, citizens of the countries and most of all inquisitive children. Each veteran was placed on a military jeep and was driven to the main stage; waiting to greet them were the kings and queens of each country who personally thanked them for their service. It is estimated that over 15,000 people attended this event.
On Sunday, September 1 under Dutch military escort, Pastor Brown and his party were driven to Valkenburg in the Netherlands. He would be the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Camille OOstwegel, the owners of the Hotel St. Gerlach. Mieke Kirkels, a Research Fellow for The Sociaal Historisch Centrum Voor Limburg, had arranged three important events while in the Netherlands for the week. On September 3rd, Pastor Brown spoke at the AFNORTH International School in Brunssum. This school has students whose parents were serving in the military and diplomatic corps from America, Canada and three European countries. There was a lively exchange between the students and Pastor Brown in the school’s auditorium. At a small reception, some students had an opportunity to engage personally with Pastor Brown. The Director, Kathy Wood who is from England, expressed her appreciation for his visit.
One of the most moving moments of the trip happened on September 4th in the city of Margraten. It was here that Pastor Brown encountered the children and grandchildren of the Negro (Black) soldiers who help liberate The Netherlands. Some of these offspring are now parents and grandparents themselves. In an intimate gathering with the mayor of the city and other local leaders, stories, memories and pictures were shared. It seemed as though Pastor Brown was their connection to the past. Maria Andres traced her father’s family to Clearwater, Florida. She remains in contact with them to this day. Marc Geijselaers proudly displayed pictures of his grandfather. He too has made contact with his American family. Mieke Kirkels has done extensive research on the Black Liberators’ children in her book, Kinderen Van Zwarte Bevrrijder. This meeting was followed by a reception where many issues were discussed relative to treatment and acceptance in Dutch society. At the reception Eddie (Nadir) Lamar Jones, Pastor Brown’s grandson offered a stirring Negro Spiritual entitled, “Go Down Moses.”
The American Cemetery in Magraten, Netherlands would be the final stop on our visit. On September 5th, a ceremony was held entitled Tribute To The 32 Negro Infantry Volunteers. There are over 8,000 American soldiers buried here, which includes 172 Black (Negro) Liberating soldiers. Many of these men were truck drivers, gravediggers and defenders of the Netherlands. Attending this tribute were citizens of the city who have adopted the graves of these Black soldiers. One couple adopted the grave of Fred L. Brown in 1946 and to this day still places flowers on his grave. Julius A. Lawrence who is buried here was in Pastor Brown’s squad The 60th Infantry 9th Division. He recalled their friendship. Pastor Brown offered words of remembrance, service and comfort to those present. As the tribute ended, Nienke Nasserian of Dutch and Masai ancestry offered two beautiful solos entitled, “Summertime” From Porgy and Bess and the Negro Spiritual, “Ride On King Jesus.” Flowers were placed on the 32 graves, which ended the ceremony.
On September 6th the official trip ended, however, the spiritual connections made hopefully will never be forgotten in the minds, hearts and souls of those whose paths we crossed.
Donec iterum conveniant………. Until We Meet Again
Pastor Brown Thanks The Following Participants:
Ryan Paton (Honor Flights South Florida), Paula Jarrett (Travel Nurse), Mieke Kirkels (European and U.S.Trip Coordinator), Maxine B. Jones (U.S. and European Trip Coordinator), Rev. Matthew Southall Brown, Jr. (Local Trip Coordinator), Eddie (Nadir) Lamar Jones and Hollie Washington (Trip Companions), Leonard A. Brown (Trip Observer and Recorder), Sebastiaan Vonk (Dutch Researcher), Ard M.M.Van Der Vorst (Consul General The Netherlands), Helen Z. Willis (Transportation Councilwoman City of South Fulton), Officer Christopher Poythress (Transportation CPD), Conyers, Georgia (Honor Flights), Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, The Belgium and Netherlands National Press, The Savannah Press and Media, Delta Airlines, Supporting Churches, Pastors and the Savannah Community, The Dutch Consulate, The United States Embassy in Belgium and the Netherlands, The British Broadcasting Corporation, and Our Heavenly Father.