Miss. military museum exhibit honors ’Dutch Fliers’

Published 3:34 pm Friday, June 1, 2007

A new exhibit at the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum chronicles a piece of military history that reaches from the Magnolia state to the other side of the world.

The museum — located on a sprawling National Guard base near Hattiesburg with a rich history itself — recently unveiled an exhibit based on the Dutch pilots who trained in Mississippi during World War II.

Dutch soldiers were forced out of the Dutch East Indies by early 1942, and with Nazis occupying the Netherlands, the country’s training battalions had nowhere to go.

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Mississippi became an unlikely refuge when the United States offered to train Dutch military personnel at Jackson Army Air Base.

The “Dutch fliers,” trained in Jackson from 1942 to 1944. The ones who died during training are buried at Cedarlawn Cemetery in Jackson.

A temporary exhibit featuring pictures, history lessons and other memorabilia is on display at Camp Shelby and a permanent exhibit is planned, museum officials say.

Many Dutch fliers came to love Mississippi. Flier Herman Arens, who came to Jackson from the Dutch East Indies as a flight instructor, wanted to buried with his comrades here. He was interred at Cedarlawn on Memorial Day this year, an experience his widow, Ans Arens, said was moving.

“I thought, ‘My God — my Herman stood here,’” Ans Arens said.

Ans Arens, born in the Dutch East Indies, spent three years of the war interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, meeting Herman Arens when he returned to the East Indies with a unit that liberated her camp.

The exhibit grew from the desire of Arens and other Dutch fliers to be buried at Cedarlawn, said retired Col. Wallace Sanders, who helped the Arens family secure a spot for Herman Arens.

“We brought them home, and we’re going to keep them,” he said. “Friends are forever.”

Many of the items in the exhibit were donated by families like Hattiesburg resident Sunnye Streuding-Forte, whose father Fred Streuding trained in Jackson, Sanders said.

“We’ve had a lot of these items in our possession,” Streuding-Forte said. “I’m just awe-struck that my father would be honored like this.”

Rear Adm. Michiel B. Hijmans, a defense attache of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, who comes to Mississippi each year for a wreath-laying ceremony at Cedarlawn, said he’s thrilled to see the new exhibit.

“I think it is of the utmost importance that on both sides of the ocean we recognize each others’ contributions, not just in World War II but in Iraq and Afghanistan …” he said. “It’s good to see that on this side of the ocean, people recognize what we did in World War II.”

The military museum opened five years ago and features some 17,000 artifacts, including an exhibit that honors Mississippi’s 26 Medal of Honor recipients and the 44 Medal of Honor recipients that served or trained at Camp Shelby.

On the Web:

Mississippi Armed Forces Museum: http://armedforcesmuseum.us/