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Today is August 13, 2022

Mississippi Seen

The Flying Dutchmen of Jackson

By Walt Grayson

The Flying Dutchmen of Jackson

Back in 1995, I was with a small group of journalists who went to St. Petersburg in Russia to preview the palaces that would be showcased the following year in The Palaces of St. Petersburg Exhibition in Jackson. 

We stopped briefly at Helsinki, Finland for the plane to be serviced before the last leg of the journey. Some of us got the bright idea that we needed to dash out of the airport so we could say we put our feet on Finnish soil. It was only after we had gone through customs and tapped our toes on the grass beside the sidewalk that we realized customs is just one way! You don’t turn around and go back in the way you came out. 

We did find the entrance and got back to the plane on time.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to have some special visa to get out of the country. We also didn’t require any particular level of intelligence as either. 

I thought about that adventure the other day when I stepped onto Dutch soil. And I didn’t have to leave Jackson to do it. I just went to  Cedar Lawn Cemetery on West Capitol Street and visited Section 41. That portion of the cemetery was ceded to the Netherlands by the City of Jackson as the final resting place for Dutch pilots who lost their lives while training in Mississippi during World War II. Since the section  is owned by the Netherlands, the pilots literally are buried in Dutch soil.

The Flying Dutchmen of Jackson is a part of Mississippi history I didn’t know about until after I had been living here for several years.

The Netherlands was overrun by Germany early in World War II as was the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) by Japan. So, the Netherlands military was without a country. The U.S. allowed Dutch pilots  to train in America. Since they were using open cockpit aircraft,  they requested bases in the south. Hawkins Field in Jackson became their headquarters.

Some of the pilots and trainers lost their lives in accidents. Not only here, but at other bases as well. They were all buried in Jackson. Later, other pilots, killed in combat, were returned to Jackson. By the end of the war there were 30 graves in Section 41 of Cedar Lawn.   

Then, in the years after the war, some of the men who had trained here wanted to be buried with their companions when they died. Some of their family members are buried with them. 

In years past there have been ceremonies at the Dutch flier graves around Memorial Day. Not so much lately. There were none this year. COVID-19 may have stopped them the past  two years. 

So now, while we display our patriotism on the 4th of July, let’s  remember the Flying Dutchmen of Jackson along with our service members. They trained here and fought for the Allies in World War II. They are buried in Dutch soil, right here in Mississippi.

 

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Walt is also a reporter and 4 p.m. news anchor at WJTV in Jackson. He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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