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TV Documentary Tells Story of Honoring WWII Dead

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2004 – They never met him. But, for more than five decades, a sister and brother in Meersen, Holland, have painstakingly tended the grave of a young American who died defending democracy in Nazi Germany.

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Pvt. Eddie Hart, a farmer from North Carolina, after being drafted in 1944. Courtesy photo
  

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"Thank You, Eddie Hart," a documentary airing in May on American Public Television, tells the story of honoring those who died for others' freedom.

Shortly before World War II ended, the Dutch people donated more than 60 acres in Margraten to the United States for the Netherlands American Cemetery, a military cemetery for Americans who died in the war. The Dutch citizens also established an adoption program. Each Dutch family made a promise to contact the soldier's family, visit the grave several times a year and refresh the flowers on a continuing basis. All of the more than 18,000 graves were adopted.

In 1946, 22-year-old Betty Habets-Vrancken adopted the grave of Pvt. Eddie Hart, a soldier from North Carolina.

She wrote to Hart's sister Hattie. "Dear Miss Hart," the letter said, "I am a Dutch girl and I live in the south part of Holland. I guess you know that there is buried your older brother Eddie and I have adopted his grave. I hope, dear Miss Hart, that this will be a little better for you to know that your brother's grave is not lonely and forgotten."

Eleven years later, when Betty and her family moved to the United States, her brother Johan became the caretaker.

Over a Thanksgiving dinner in 2000, Betty met producer Brenda Hughes from Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Betty told Hughes her story and work on the documentary began.

The 60-minute program is narrated by North Carolina native and actor Pat Hingle, who is also a World War II veteran.

The film follows Hart's and Habets-Vrancken's lives through the war, stopping in many places that Hart's unit, G Company, blitzed through in 1945.

Veterans who served with Eddie LaFayette Smith of Kinston, N.C.; John Cupina of Binghamton, N.Y.; Dick Coyle of Port Washington, N.Y.; and Paul Willis of Canton, N.C. - offer their perspectives on the fateful day in Barby, Germany, when Eddie Hart was killed.

It concludes with Hattie Hart-Holloman's April 2002 trip to Holland with her family to meet Johan and visit Eddie's grave for the first time.

With tears in his eyes and a cane in his hand, Johan leads Hattie and her family to Eddie's grave. "After so many years, like I tell her, I kept my promise," he says.

The story of Eddie Hart "is so much more than a World War II story," said Hughes. "It is positive, yet poignant; 'reality' television, yet a reminder of a time we can never forget. Perhaps more than anything, 'Thank You, Eddie Hart' demonstrates that ordinary people can do most extraordinary things."

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American Public Television

Click photo for screen-resolution imageBetty Habets-Vrancken, who adopted Pvt. Eddie Hart's grave in 1946, visits it in June 1997. She now lives in New York, and her brother takes care of the gravesite. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePvt. Eddie Hart's grave at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Hart was killed during World War II in Barby, Germany. Courtesy photo  
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