Steamboat Springs Flora Wolf remembers waving the American flag while riding on a U.S. Army tank through the streets of her Dutch town.
It was the first taste of freedom the 3-year girl ever had.
For years, Wolf, who now lives in North Routt County, has thought about ways to thank the U.S. soldiers who liberated her town of Nijmegen, Netherlands, which had been under German control since she was born in April of 1941.
"We were waving flags, everyone was on the streets. Everyone had come out," she said.
The allied forces liberated Nijmegen on Sept. 17, 1944. The town of Arnhem, 17-kilomerters and one bridge over, was not freed until the war ended on May 5, 1944.
Wolf's town was in the middle of the Allies' Operation Market Garden. The plan was to have British and American paratroopers drop in behind enemy lines to capture eight bridges that crossed a network of canals and rivers on the Dutch and German border. At the same time, British tanks and infantry were to move through the allies' front lines to the key bridges, relieve the airborne troops and cross over the Rhine River and into Germany.
The troops advanced as far as Nijmegen, but were stopped by the Germans at the last bridge in Arnhem.
From September until May, Wolf said, the allies were stationed in her town continuing to battle for the Arnhem bridge.
Troops stayed in her house and her family lived in the cellar during those months. Wolf and her sister slept head to toe in a crib; her baby sister slept in a pram. It was a small price to pay for liberation from Germany, which invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940.
"I've always had a very good feeling about Americans," Wolf said.
She remembers the soldiers passing through her house, sleeping for just a few hours at a time and never taking off their shoes.
A Canadian solider who lived in her aunt and grandfather's house continued to keep in touch with the family. After her aunt died, Wolf would call him every Memorial Day, thanking him for liberating their country.
"He was so moved," she said. "He always seemed to get so emotional."
The liberation was not the first memory for the young girl. Wolf can recall being frightened by the German soldiers and eating little else but potatoes for the last year of the occupation.
She remembers the Allied planes flying overhead, on their way to drop off the paratroopers.
During German occupation, her mother gathered the neighborhood radios and hid them in their A-framed attic. She hung bed covers near the window, as though they were airing out, to keep the radios from German view. Neighbors would come in and out of their house to listen to the latest news on the allied advancement.
Long after the Germans left, Wolf learned that her father would hide inside the family's dismantled organ, unwilling to be taken to work in German factories or worse. Her mother had taken the inner workings of the organ out and buried them in the ground. For three years, he would hide in the organ during German raids.
"I always wondered what if a musical German wanted to hear the organ," she said.
Still today, Wolf wonders what her world would be like if British and Americans troops had never arrived.
"Thank you veterans, thank you all still living and all that have died for your patriotism," she said. " Thank you for your legacy, your courage and my freedom."
-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org