Shortly after World War II, a number of Western countries established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A military alliance with the aim of counterbalancing possible aggression by the communist countries in the Eastern Bloc. This period is called the Cold War. This period includes the blockade of West Berlin and the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Soviet Union. The dividing line between East and West was called the Iron Curtain.
Help with the defense of the Netherlands
To protect Europe, the United States stationed military units in Europe. The Netherlands received support for the defense of its airspace in the form of an American squadron of fighter aircraft. That squadron, with the designation ‘the 32nd’ and which bore the nickname ‘Wolfhounds’, was stationed at Soesterberg Air Base in 1954. The part of the airbase that the Americans populated was called Camp New Amsterdam, named after a Dutch settlement in America, which later grew into the city of New York. Over the years, the squadron had several aircraft types, which evolved along with technical developments: from F-86 Saber to F-100 Super Saber, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-4 Phantom and finally F-15 Eagle. The squadron was on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to launch two aircraft into the air within minutes if enemy aircraft approached Dutch airspace with unknown intentions.
The Americans in Soesterberg
An entire neighborhood in the village has been built for their housing with street names that refer to the American space program: Apollo, Gemini and Mercury. The first house was completed in 1977. The carports of the houses were a typical feature of the architectural style that Americans were used to. What was also special was that this residential area was open to the public, in contrast to such residential areas elsewhere in Europe. Without a fence around it or security. There were even American children attending primary school in the village and Americans were part of local sports clubs. The foreign presence also resulted in love relationships and marriages between Dutch citizens and American soldiers.
The departure from Soesterberg
In the 1990s, the Cold War came to an end: the Eastern Bloc weakened and in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. East and West Berlin became one again. The Eastern Bloc subsequently fell apart and there was detente between the Soviet Union and the United States. The threat from the East diminished and the Americans reduced their forces in Europe. The Wolfhounds flew their last mission from Soesterberg in 1994. Their presence in the Netherlands came to an end after 40 years. The American homes in Soesterberg were taken into use by Dutch citizens.
The ideas behind this monument
This memorial is an initiative of the SAM (Soesterberg Air Force Memorial) committee, consisting of residents of Soesterberg with a personal connection to the American period. The SAM foundation was set up and it has realized this monument. It is a tribute to the Americans who worked at Soesterberg Air Base from 1954 to 1994 and who lived in the village with their families. The monument is a place where everyone can experience the period with the Americans, with their diverse backgrounds and customs. The monument was designed by artist Chris Rodenburg.
Left: the military aspect
The monument consists of three panels on the left, with on the left the first jet fighters with which the Americans flew at Soesterberg, in the middle the runway – now ‘taken over’ by the skylark – and on the right the F-15s that were in use when the Americans left. This panel uses the silhouettes that stood on the Zulu hangar. That’s the hangar where two fighter planes were combat-ready 24 hours a day to take to the skies within minutes to eliminate potential threats. The panels stand as a reminder of the Berlin Wall, which was partly the reason for the arrival of the Americans at Soesterberg.
Right: the social aspects
To the right are silhouettes of Americans, situated around a yard sale, far from home. Typical American elements include a barbecue, the wolfhound (the mascot of the 32nd), Halloween, a group of friends with a basketball, a cheerleader and a baseball player, a family with a bowling ball and a soldier with his hand on his heart while the anthem is being played. Just after the Second World War, the Dutch lived frugally. There wasn’t that much yet. The Americans brought something special with them. They were physically bigger, more vital and had a very different attitude to life. The presence of the Americans also resulted in the first McDonald’s McDrive in the Netherlands at Huis ter Heide. A memento of the first drive-thru speaker post stands near the center bench of the monument. In the 40 years of American presence, people got married, children were born and people died. The centerpiece is therefore a majestic linden tree trunk with a heart, a stork delivering a baby and a cross carved into it, as representing falling in love, birth and death. There is also someone with a tulip, and near and behind the tree is a couple in love. When the 32nd was disbanded in 1994 and the US Air Force left Soesterberg Air Base, it had a huge impact on all involved. In some cases, families were even split up.
Besides the fact that you can walk between the parts of the monument, in a way participating in it, you can also just look at it. Take a seat on one of the three benches with the rear of a typical American old timer at the back. Everyone has his or her own memory of that period or can form an image of it in this way.
The monument is a heartfelt thank you to the Americans who from 1954 to 1994 devoted part of their lives to the defense of the Netherlands.