Netherlands River Cruise was living history lesson
By Theresa Croteau
Special to the Chronicle
A Springtime Netherlands River Cruise to see the beautiful tulips and enjoy the Dutch culture with my husband and good friends became a living history lesson and surprisingly touching personal experience.
A month before our trip my father, Fred Clingenpeel, was hospitalized for treatment for congestive heart failure and chronic lung disease. Unlike past times sitting with him in the hospital, our conversation evolved to his experiences as an Army Paratrooper during World War II. This was a subject he chose for years to not discuss except in very brief and general ways. But this time was different. This time he verbally painted a very vivid picture of the setting and his experiences.
This is the story he shared with me: On Sunday, Sept. 17, 1944, at the age of 19, he and hundreds of other young Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne, 508 Regiment, jumped from their planes into the countryside around Nijmegen, Netherlands. Being from West Virginia, this was the flattest country he had ever seen. The ground where he made camp was a small hill near the highest point in the area overlooking the historically significant rail bridge and road bridge which crossed the River Waal. The mission of the U.S. and British troops was to seize the bridges which were held by the Germans and the mission was accomplished.
At some point during our conversation he asked if my husband and I
would be anywhere near Nijmegen during our upcoming trip. As my dad
and I looked at the map of the river cruise destinations, we
discovered that on "Day 7" we would be docked in Nijmegen. Not
knowing where we would dock relative to the bridges, I promised to
take pictures of the bridges and surrounding area even if I had to
find a taxi to take me there. A few weeks later we left for our
Netherlands adventure. According to our schedule, the boat would
dock in Nijmegen some time in the very early morning on Sunday. Would I need a taxi or be able to walk there for picture taking? We docked around 1 a.m. I jumped from my bed and pulled back the curtains. There they were! The road bridge was to the right of the boat and the rail bridge to the left with the boat docked in between. We were out very early the next morning and followed the path toward the road bridge to a location where we could snap photos of the area my dad had described. I felt very satisfied that we had accomplished our objective but the best was yet to come.
After breakfast we joined our city tour group already gathered on the dock. Our local guide was a distinguished looking gentleman appearing to be in his late seventies. He began his comments saying: "The first time I ever saw an American was on Sept. 17, 1944 when the Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne jumped into Nijmegen.
I was 9 years old and my father grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of the house. He pointed to the sky and I thought it looked like confetti was falling from heaven. Then my father said, 'Son, those are angels coming the help us.' " By this time my eyes were filled with tears and my throat too choked up to speak. Instead, my friend Sue spoke for me and said, "Theresa's dad was one of those Paratroopers." "I might have shaken his hand," our guide said. "I shook hands with hundreds of soldiers in those months."
When I think back to my reaction and try to understand the surprisingly deep emotion, I believe it came from two realizations: The Europeans who experienced the war and are still around to talk about it have a deep appreciation for the sacrifices made by the American soldiers and their families on their behalf; and this quiet man I call dad was part of a heroic effort much bigger and more special than anything I will ever experience.
[Tallahassee Democrat, Tallahassee, FL, 21 Feb 2013, Thu, Page E4]