My Two Dads:
A Father's Day Tribute, cont.
by Bill Knudsen
After my story about traveling to Normandy to meet my father for the first time at his grave in the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach was published in the Seattle Times, I received numerous emails and phone calls. Today, I got a call that made me cry for an hour.
A man named Case Wagemans called the Seattle Times and asked to talk to me. They told him they would pass along his name and number, and I gave him a call.
Mr. Wagemans is 85 years old, and he lives in north Seattle with his wife Camille. He had written down every word he wanted to say to me, so he didn't forget anything, and/or waste my time. (As if I had anything important to do anyway.)
The Wagemans lived in Holland during the war, and they spent three years in a German Concentration camp. They were separated by the Germans, and for three years they thought they would never see each other again.
He made a statement to me that resonated through me like an arrow:
"You don't totally appreciate your freedom until you have lost it."
Mr. Wagemans said that he had endured considerable torture under the Nazis, had many of his bones broken, and saw hundreds of his comrades die. It was Americans, just like my dad, who liberated them. (Specifically the 101st Airborne Unit, who were a very important part of the Normandy landing.)
He told me that when those Americans came through the gate, he cried uncontrollably for over a week, then did it all again five weeks later when he saw his wife again. He had believed she must be dead.
It took them almost a decade to save enough money, but in 1951, the Wagemans moved to America to be closer to a people who would sacrifice so much for them and ask for nothing in return except some land in which to bury their dead. They became US citizens in 1959.
I have a sense that he isn't a rich man, but he and his wife have visited all fourteen American cemeteries in France to thank those who died liberating them, including the cemetery my dad is in at Normandy. They have spent days walking the grounds, laying flowers on the various graves, and literally thanking every single person in the cemetery for helping them to live free.
The man called to tell me how much that article meant to them, how it touched them both, and how much they appreciated my trip. He also told me he was sure that my dad would be proud of me. As he talked to me I could hardly hold back the tears. We forget sometimes the absolute power of words.
I am so happy I took the time to write that piece. Mr. & Mrs. Wagemans have touched my heart in a way that is hard for me to describe.