This article first appeared in the May/June 2023 edition of Home & Harvest magazine.
By Elaina Pierson, Office Coordinator
In April of 2021, the Latah County Historical Society was contacted by an individual who was searching for a photo of a Moscow High School graduate by the name of Floyd Hicks. Inquiries of this sort are not unusual; we regularly field photo requests from newspapers, students, curious family members, and so on. This one, however, was unique.
The researcher, Teresa Hirsch, is a volunteer for the Fields of Honor Foundation, a Dutch nonprofit that works to honor American service members who lost their lives in World War II and are buried or memorialized in one of the American War Cemeteries located throughout Europe. A major part of the Fields of Honor mission is to maintain an online database containing a memorial page for each of these casualties, complete with photos and life history. There are currently about 38,000 individuals listed in the database with around 7,000 of those lacking personal memorial pages. Finding information for these remaining profiles is the work of two dozen dedicated volunteers, which is how Hirsch found her way to us.
Floyd Hicks was born in Missouri in 1922. By age 13, he and his family had made their way to Moscow, where he graduated high school around 1940. On the Ancestry database, Hirsch found a dedication page from a later MHS yearbook. It states, “In all humility we dedicate this issue of ‘Bear Tracks,’ a visible expression of our hopes, to those graduates of Moscow High School who have sacrificed their lives in the service of their country.”
Twenty-six young men are named below, including Floyd Hicks. Our archives here at the historical society didn’t produce anything more so the MHS library was consulted. Unfortunately, their collection of past yearbooks was missing any of the pertinent years that may have contained a photo of Hicks. It was here that my part of the search ended – somewhat unsatisfactorily – but I remained intrigued, not only by the mystery of Floyd Hicks, but also by the nature of his final resting place.
According to his enlistment paperwork, when Hicks joined the Army in March of 1943, he was married and working as a welder in Los Angeles, California. He served as Private First Class in Company L of the 311th Infantry Regiment until he was killed in action in Germany on January 31, 1945. Nearly a month later, the Army posthumously awarded him the Bronze Star for his actions on that fateful day: “Heavy machine gun fire stopped the advance of the platoon to which Private First Class Hicks was assigned. When an American soldier attempted to capture two enemy soldiers holding up their hands in an attitude of surrender, he was shot. Private First Class Hicks, seeing this action, single-handedly assaulted the position, firing his BAR [Browning Automatic Rifle] from the hip as he advanced. After advancing 75 yards he was fatally wounded by the dense fire. His heroic actions and great personal courage inspired the remaining men of the platoon to initiate an aggressive assault on the enemy and are in accordance with the highest military traditions.”
Pfc. Hicks was buried in a newly created military war cemetery in the village of Margraten, in the Netherlands, along with what would eventually be 17,738 fellow American soldiers. In the years since, that number has dwindled to just over 8,000 as bodies were repatriated to the US. An additional 1,722 listed as missing in action are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing.
Ground was broken for the Margraten Cemetery in the later months of 1944 with labor provided by the largely African American 960th Quartermaster Corps – segregation was still in effect at this time, often relegating Black soldiers to rear duties. As the number of casualties increased with the Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 through January 1945, it became necessary to seek assistance from the citizens of the town. Thus began the unique relationship between Margraten’s people and the Americans interred nearby.
To show appreciation, the graves and memorial names began to be adopted by the grateful residents of Margraten, who tended to and laid flowers for each fallen soldier. This adoption program continues today as the Margraten Adoption Foundation, with many adoptions being passed down from generation to generation within families. The cemetery was ceremonially opened on Memorial Day 1946, an event which garnered international attention as well as 20 trucks full of flowers sent from 60 surrounding villages.
In the years following its opening, the Margraten Cemetery would be redesigned and recreated as the Netherlands American Cemetery, overseen by the American Battle Monuments Commission. It was formally opened by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands in 1960.
Today the 65.5 acre site includes a memorial tower with a chapel, and a reflecting pool in the Court of Honor, which is lined by the Walls of the Missing. Beyond this is the burial area itself, with white marble headstones placed in gentle curves across the rolling green fields.
Each year on May 4th, Dutch Remembrance Day, elaborate commemorations memorialize the American sacrifices of war. In 2005, President George W. Bush became the first American president to visit. His speech that day noted the appropriate nature of the Netherlands as final resting place for so many American soldiers:
“It was from a Dutch port that many of our pilgrim fathers first sailed for America. It was a Dutch port that gave the American flag its first gun salute. It was the Dutch who became one of the first foreign nations to recognize the independence of the new United States of America. And when American soldiers returned to this continent to fight for freedom, they were led by a President (Roosevelt) who owed his family name to this great land.”
In 2008, an oral history project, Akkers van Margraten (Fields of Margraten) was undertaken by the Legacy of the War Heritage Program and the Association of Margraten Local History Organizations, resulting in a book, From Farmland to Soldiers Fields, and a television documentary. In 2014, a joint effort between the Fields of Honor Foundation and the American Battle Monuments Commission created the “Faces of Margraten” project. This tribute occurs every two years for Remembrance Day, when scores of volunteers work to add a photo of each individual soldier to their graves and memorial names. The research that has gone into finding these photos and learning the stories of those memorialized here resulted in a book, The Faces of Margraten: They will remain forever young, which received its first English language edition in January of this year.
Among the over 10,000 Americans memorialized in Margraten today are four women, 172 African Americans, and six Medal of Honor recipients. Also buried or memorialized here are 32 from Idaho, including two soldiers from Latah County: Cale E. Judd of Troy and Lloyd G. Hasfurther of Genesee. As for Pfc. Hicks, even though he did not live in Moscow when he enlisted and therefore isn’t included in Latah County military rosters, one mention of his service in an old yearbook was enough to bring the connection to light, demonstrating the sometimes sideways and frustrating nature of doing research into the past.
In the time since I first learned of Pfc. Floyd Hicks and the Netherlands American Cemetery, a photo and more information about his life have been found through the dedicated work of research volunteer Teresa Hirsch.
As the Dutch prepare for Remembrance Day on May 4th and Liberation Day on the 5th, and we here in the United States prepare for our own Memorial Day, it is appropriate to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many in defense of the shared ideals of justice and freedom. By tending their graves, saying their names, and seeing their faces, we are reminded of the high price we’ve paid for these ideals. The commitment by those who care for the Margraten Cemetery honor this sacrifice with a powerful demonstration of the kind of cooperation and camaraderie that helped move the world through one of its greatest trials, the Second World War.
Further Sources: Teresa Hirsch, Research Volunteer, Fields of Honor Foundation, www.fieldsofhonor-database.com American Battle Monuments Commission, www.abmc.gov The Faces of Margraten, degezichtenvanmargraten.nl/index.php/en-us/ Netherlands American Cemetery, Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netherlands_American_Cemetery