June 25, 2005

World War II Orphan Finds Father's Grave in Netherlands
By Jim Duddy, Florida Today


A group of 24 American World War II orphans, including Brevard County resident Joyce McCollum-Reynolds, combined Memorial Day and Father’s Day into a single tribute by traveling overseas to visit the graves and honor the memories of their fallen fathers.

Reynolds’s voyage might have started when, at the age of 5, she got her first letter and one of the last her father ever wrote.

In the letter, he lovingly said to his youngest daughter, “Pay attention to your mother and help her do the dishes, and went on to add that he didn’t know when, but, “I would like to be back where I could hold my family in my arms again.”

Now retired from Kennedy Space Center, where she worked for NASA, and with her children grown and having families of their own, Reynolds, who lives in Rockledge, still has the letter, handwritten in pencil and faded, but clear proof that her father was a good and caring man.

He was Pvt. Clarence E. McCollum, who fought with the 84th Infantry Division, 334th Regiment, (known as the Railsplitters). He was killed in action near Purmmern, Germany, on Nov.20, 1944.

He is buried at the American National Cemetery at Margraten, in the Netherlands, along with nearly 3,000 other American soldiers.

Reynolds remembers her father as a baker by trade, and as a family man with a good disposition, who was always whistling a happy tune or laughing.

“In years past, I had been sent pictures of his grave, so it wasn’t a total shock going there for the first time,” Reynolds said.

“Most kids like me, whose dad’s died in that war, grew up thinking their fathers somehow had just gone away, or maybe were shell-shocked and still wandering around dazed somewhere in Europe,” said Reynolds.

“When I was a child growing up in Missouri, adults never talked about death in front of children. And heaven forbid I should ever be referred to as a war orphan. Instead, it was just that kids like me, my older brother, Jimmie Earl, and sister, Marian Sue, didn’t have a father,” she said.

But these days, it is talked about. And it is the main focus of a nationwide group called the American World War II Orphans Network, which cherishes and seeks to keep alive the memories of their fathers. There were 183,000 such children.

As for her father’s being buried on foreign shores instead of close to home, Reynolds voiced the sentiments of many of her fellow net-work members.

“As I stood before that flower-draped cross of stone, I was overcome with a deep sense of serenity, “she said. I didn’t cry, instead I was at peace there and also took great comfort in the fact that the Dutch people have assigned someone to care for each and every American grave site for all these many years.”

High Honor

The Dutch people consider it a high honor to be designated as a gravesite adoptee, and they can be counted on to regularly take flowers to their assigned American gravesite and otherwise see to its welfare, she said.

“My father’s adoptee is a 70-year-old fellow named Hans van Toer from the town of Margraten, who visits the grave with his wife, Nellie, and their children, Sanne and Mike, bringing flowers on a regular basis. I consider them my dear friends and we stay in touch by e-mail.”

The townspeople treated the visiting WWII Orphans and their families to dinner, where they met the Queen’s representative and the US Ambassador to the Netherlands. And local folks driving authentic old American Jeeps escorted all the visiting Americans.

On top of all that, I was picked to lay the floral wreath in remembrance of the men in my father’s outfit,” Reynolds said. Her husband, Lloyd agreed the trip was inspiring and said the journey had long been put off because something else always seemed to come up. But with them both retired and her joining the network, this year everything came together.

The couple, and the five other family members who joined them, all felt the Dutch made the American Memorial Day their own.

“Thousands of them showed up for the ceremonies, most with flowers. And some who didn’t have invitations had to be turned away, but even they stood there in silent respect outside the gates, all reverently honoring the men like my dad who freed their country, “ Reynolds said.

The American World War II Orphans Network, founded in 1991, works to fill the void felt by orphans and to provide information to cut through red tape and old military documents to tell them when and where their fathers’ died or were reported missing in action.

Those interested may contact the network by e-mail through the Web site www.awon.org or by calling (303) 233-4361.

Joyce McCollum Reynolds is the daughter of PVT Clarence E. McCollum and is a resident of Rockledge, Florida

In Memory of PVT Clarence E. McCollum, Jr., KIA 24 October 1944 in Prummern, Germany