BHS student, teacher study WWII in Netherlands

BHS student McLean Brown and his teacher Scott Auspelmyer at the Netherlands grave site of a Columbia WWII hero. | Contributed

BLYTHEWOOD – McLean Brown, a senior at Blythewood High School, and his teacher Scott Auspelmyer were selected to spend four days in the Netherlands for the purpose of studying the European Theatre of World War II – specifically the Operation Market Garden and the Liberation of the Netherlands. The trip was sponsored by the National History Day’s Operation Liberty. Brown and Auspelmyer departed Nov. 13 and returned Nov. 17.

Brown was required to work with Auspelmyer to complete academic caliber work, including historical research into a WWII silent hero and the completion of a profile of that silent hero for National History Day. Brown also wrote and performed eulogy about the silent hero at his gravesite at the Netherlands American Cemetery.

Brown chose to research the life of Major Thomas Cargill, of Columbia, who died when the troop transport he was piloting was shot down by enemy forces on March 24, 1945. Cargill chose not to finish his degree at Clemson, and instead enlisted in the US Army in October 1941. He was eventually deployed to pilot troop transport aircraft for the Allies in Europe.  During his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and a Purple Heart.  Major Cargill was buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margarten and his grave, as with all graves at this cemetery, has been adopted by a local Dutch family who visits it regularly to pay respects to a fallen American hero who they never met.

During the trip to the Netherlands, Brown and Auspelmyer visited many historic sites including the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Freedom Museum in Groesbeek and the German War Cemetery in Ysselsteyn.

“Freedom dies when we don’t do anything to protect it,” Brown said, reflecting on what he felt he learned most from his trip.

“When we learn about WWII in U.S. public schools, we learn about how many people died and how we helped liberate Europe, but it’s mainly mentioned in passing and never truly explained,” Brown said. “Once you get the opportunity to go to one of these places, like the Netherlands, you get to see how much it means to the people who live in the places where it happened. It’s not even just the people who lived through it, but the second and third generation people who have these stories passed down from their parents. The Dutch people do an infinitely better job at commemorating US soldiers from WWII than we do,” Brown said, “and I want to be able to do something to fix that. Seeing how important the American role in the liberation of Europe was is something that I wish I could share with others, and it’s something that I’m honored to have gotten the opportunity to experience.”

Brown’s profile on Cargill will be published on the National History Day program’s website at NHD.org  

Brown participates in the Blythewood High School Honors Forum which requires seniors to complete a year-long project as a culminating experience. To that end, McLean has decided to conduct a project centered on commemorating fallen World War II soldiers in the greater Columbia area

“I want people to understand how important U.S. soldiers’ contributions were to Western Europe.”