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MTU ROTC cadet serves fellowship in Netherlands

Courtesy of the American Battle Monuments Commission Catherine Prince (right) poses with Anaiya Harris, another fellowship recipient, on Memorial Day, at a ceremony they helped prepare as part of their experience at the cemetery.

Michigan Tech student and Air Force ROTC Cadet Catherine Prince of South Lyons, Michigan has received a prestigious fellowship from the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). Prince, along with another recipient from Brigham Young University, participated in a two-week program that included deployment to the Netherlands American Cemetery. Prince worked in a hands-on environment with the cemetery’s Memorial Day commemoration.

“We congratulate Anaiya and Catherine and look forward to welcoming them as part of our team over Memorial Day,” said ABMC Secretary Charles K. Djou in an ABMC press release. “It’s so important we continue to honor the service and sacrifice of our service members from generations past and educate our future generations on the costs of freedom.”

ABMC’s Vice Chairman, retired Air Force Brigadier General Dan Woodward, welcomed the fellows.

“After a successful inaugural year, we’re excited to welcome our second cohort for the fellowship program,” Woodward said. “As future military leaders it is important for the cadets to understand the profound service and sacrifice that gives Americans the freedom we enjoy today.”

When asked about what inspired her to apply for the fellowship, Prince responded, “It’s a good opportunity, going abroad and learning about the ABMC. I’d heard about them through Air Force ROTC.” She also cited the opportunity to travel, which “not a lot of people get to do” as one of her motivators.

Prince went into depth about what her first few days were like in the Netherlands.

“It was great, super welcoming people. The Netherlands American Cemetery is run by a Superintendent and Vice Superintendent, who are both American. The rest of the employees are either Dutch or Belgian,” Prince explained.

“The first day we got to the cemetery, we got acquainted with it. We walked around, took a tour of their brand new visitors’ center, and actually read the information, appreciating it as a newcomer.”

Prince said she enjoyed seeing the cemetery from a visitors’ point of view, saying, “It was our first day, we don’t know anybody, we’re technically the public, so it was fun seeing the cemetery through that lens. We got a tour from an actual tour guide, which shed more light on the purpose of the cemetery and also what it means to the community.”

She also made a local discovery. Christine Gazvoda of Calumet, Michigan is buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery. Gazvoda was a nurse in WW2 whose plane crashed in a bout of bad weather while bringing wounded soldiers home from Europe. A banner in her honor hangs in Calumet, among those of other veterans.

According to Prince, there is a special bond between the town’s locals and the Netherlands American Cemetery. “All the locals have adopted a grave. The whole environment of the cemetery and the local community is really great.”

Prince also elaborated on the projects she was working on as part of her fellowship with ABMC.

“We did small projects to help out as they prepared for their Memorial Day event. That included prepping next of kin packages. Americans, next of kin of the soldiers buried, come over to the Netherlands and visit the cemetery and their loved one. We prepared packages for them that included documents about ABMC and about the Netherlands, and also personal information about the soldier that’s buried there”.

Prince described the project as “sobering.”

“Putting a name and face to the gravestones had this effect of, ‘Woah, this was somebody’s grandparent, or this was their niece or nephew’. That was really unique.”

The fellowship participants also helped with the day-to-day activities at the cemetery, working with the grounds teams and visitors’ center.

Prince noted all types of people came into the visitors’ center, including both Dutch and Americans.

“It’s interesting because obviously a lot of the visitors are Dutch,” Prince said. “But every now and then you’ll get an American coming in. An American tour group came by, and it was fun to see them on their vacation taking time to visit the cemetery.”

Prince’s time in the Netherlands ended on Tuesday, and she offered several of her key takeaways.

“One of my favorite parts of the trip was just learning how much passion and respect the local community and the Dutch have for the soldiers that died there and gave them their freedom. You’ll also get these big groups of several generations come and pay their respects, and that’s really touching to see.”

The trip also had a personal impact on Prince.

“I need to do a better job personally of appreciating those who have served before us. When you’re standing there and looking out on rows and rows of crosses and stars of David, you feel a sense of pride, but also sadness.”

She also commented on how important communication and a sense of togetherness are.

“The way the Dutch people and Americans work together towards the same thing is amazing. Most Dutch people speak English, so it’s been very nice and easy for me, and made me appreciate how communication for us here is easy, but for other people it’s not.”

Prince will graduate this December with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She will be commissioned into the military at her graduation ceremony. She’s hoping to become a developmental engineer, known as a 62-Echo.

Prince says her parents heavily influenced her decision to join ROTC and serve her country.

“My parents always made sure I knew how lucky I was to grow up in America with the freedoms and rights we have. I think people tend to forget, especially as we get farther and farther removed as a generation from the people who fought for our freedoms. My parents always made sure I knew I was lucky.”

Following this fellowship, the cadets will become ABMC Mission Ambassadors, helping connect peers and other college students to the agency’s objectives and century-long history.

“They had this great quote that ABMC loves to use, ‘Time does not dim the glory of their deeds.’ As an ambassador, you want to make sure people still remember them.”

Prince and other participants will also brief ABMC after their trip, as well as compile a report on their time in the Netherlands that will be used to inform future fellowship projects.

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