War veteran Sandy Cortmann dies at the age of 97

MARKET GARDEN VETERAN SANDY CORTMANN DIES AT THE AGE OF 97

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ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND – Market Garden veteran Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cortmann died on Saturday night at the age of 97 in his hometown Aberdeen in Scotland, 75jaarvrijheid reports. Last year, Sandy became nationally known in The Netherlands and the U.K. when he attended the commemoration of Operation Market Garden for the first time in 75 years. Until then, he was unknown as a war veteran. On September 21, Prince Charles of Wales and Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands and many thousands of people watched how the war veteran jumped out of a plane for the very last time in his life, making a tandem jump with the British Army Parachute Demonstration Team ‘The Red Devils’, during the 75th Commemoration of Operation Market Garden at the Ginkel Heath, just outside the town of Ede in The Netherlands.

Today on May 25 – Memorial Day in the U.S., we are honoring one special hero, who passed away last Saturday on May 23, 2020 at the age of 97. His name is Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cortmann.

During this special month – with The Netherlands on May 5, the U.K. on May 8 and Russia on May 9 – Europe is celebrating the 75th Commemoration of the Liberation of Europe.

Like this was meant to be, it is in this month of special celebrations of the Liberation of Europe that this special hero is free forever.

This is the remarkable story of an unknown hero, who would became famous in the last months of his life.

Feelings of guilt

Sandy was not sure if the people of The Netherlands would be happy to see him visit the country again, where he jumped out of a plane as a brave young man at the age of 21, to fight against the Nazis for the freedom of the Dutch people and Europe, but also the place where he would lose comrades who weren’t that lucky to survive the battles, on their way to the bridge of Arnhem. Some of them even didn’t survive the jump out of the planes.

His time in the country would have a profound impact on Sandy’s life.

He was not alone in feeling unsure to visit the country after the war – more World War II veterans felt unsure to return to The Netherlands, because they felt like they had let the Dutch people down, due to the failure to liberate the Dutch from Nazi Germany.

Sandy’s tandem parachute jump with the Royal Army Red Devils Parachute Team. Video: ITV News

A bridge too far

As a 21-year-old, Sandy volunteered for a secret mission in 1944. It turned out to be Operation Market Garden.

Operation Market Garden was not a success – many soldiers died trying to reach the famous bridge in Arnhem – but turned out to be a bridge too far for many American, British and Polish paratroopers.

More than 41,000 Paratroopers from Airborne Divisions of the U.S. Army, Royal Army and Polish Army participated in Operation Market Garden. Among them were 15,000 – 18,000 casualties.

The Nazis were aware of Operation Market Garden – the Allied Forces’ risky plan to end WWII before the Christmas1944, by conquering the major bridges in the country, making a way to penetrate Germany and to defeat the Nazis from the ground.

Instead, only the southern part of The Netherlands was liberated, resulting in many people suffering from the Hunger Winter in the northern part of the country. It was until May 5, 1945 that the Netherlands was liberated from Nazi Germany.

The story of Operation Market Garden. Video: JERRY TAHA AVIATION

Final honor to a true war hero

The Dutch regional tv-station Omroep Gelderland honored Sandy during a special ’75 years of freedom’ program, on the way to May 5, 2020 – the 75th anniversary of the liberation in The Netherlands.

Sandy simply can’t believe his own eyes, when he sees the amount of heartwarming cards, sent by Dutch people to thank and honor this extraordinary man. Video: 75 jaar vrijheid

The veteran stole the hearts of people with his great smile and they were charmed by Sandy. He could count on a lot of sympathy from many people and that’s why Omroep Gelderland started a campaign for him to honor this unkown hero in the last days of his life.

Sandy received more than 350 cards. A mail bag filled with cards from the province of Gelderland was delivered soon to his nursing home in Aberdeen. Sandy was overjoyed and quite surprised to receive so much love from the Dutch.

One last jump

The veteran was followed closely during the 75th commemoration week of Operation Market Garden in the third week of September 2019, when Sandy set foot on Dutch soil for the first time after 75 years. He visited the 75th Market Garden Commemoration on September 21, 2019 and made a parachute jump above The Ginkel Heath near Ede.

Sandy’s first visit to The Netherlands after 75 years, being concluded with a brave and spectacular last jump with UK’s finest – The Red Devils. Video: 75 jaar vrijheid

On this field – about 10 miles west of Arnhem – many British soldiers jumped out of planes, while the American soldiers were deployed in the area south of Arnhem and Nijmegen.

Last visit to honor friends

Sandy’s comrade Gordon Matthews was killed in action at the age of 20. During his first and last visit to The Netherlands after the war, Sandy first visited Matthews’ grave at the war cemetary in Oosterbeek. “I just wanted to see the graves of my friends who died here. That was the main reason for me coming to the Netherlands,” Sandy said to Omroep Gelderland last year.

  • War veteran Sandy Cortmann dies at the age of 97
  • War veteran Sandy Cortmann dies at the age of 97

The veteran experienced so much trouble during the Battle of Arnhem that he did not feel the need to return to the Netherlands for decades.

War veteran Sandy visits grave of his comrade for the first time. Video: Omroep Gelderland

But 75 years later he still wanted to visit the country again and take a look at he place where he fought 75 years earlier. “I see it as a completion of my life and to finally let the ghosts of Arnhem rest.”

The Airborne War Cemetery in Oosterbeek, just west of Arnhem, where 1,754 mostly British and Polish soldiers are buried, died from September 1944 to April 1945 during Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem. Photo: P.J.L Laurens / Wikimedia Commons

Unkown war hero

Sandy never returned to the Netherlands after the war. He was feeling guilty towards the Dutch people, had to deal with his trauma of the war, but he also wasn’t registered as a veteran either.

Bob Crocker – president of the veterans club in the UK – discovered Sandy by coincidence. “An agent called me. He had to settle a case about local youth and disturbance at the home of one Sandy Cortmann. That agent said Cortmann was a former member of the parachute regiment and was a Market Garden veteran,” Crocker said in a regiment newspaper earlier.

Sandy was not officially registered as a soldier participating in Operation Market Garden. References to the Scotsman and the Second World War were found through the archive of the museum in Duxford. Sandy is even in a well-known photo from the Battle of Arnhem.

Last veterans

After the war, Sandy became a plumber and married his girlfriend Joan at a young age. They had 2 children. Sandy survived them all.

Sandy was one of the last Market Garden veterans, a true war hero who fought for our freedom in The Netherlands. These brave veterans are getting rare these days, 75 years after the war ended. They were young men back then, in ages ranging from 17 to about 25 years.

Many died during Operation Market Garden, some survived, few are still left.

Remembering our heroes

It’s a pity really, that Sandy and other Market Garden veterans were unsure to visit the second most important country in their lives – The Netherlands. There was no need to feel unsure, because we are very grateful and we simply love these brave men who made great sacrifices and even gave their lives for other people in an other country, our small country.

A special jump for an other special war veteran of Operation Market Garden – Royal Netherlands Army Captain Bjorn Coppers flying with the ashes of Stephen Morgan. Video: Omroep Gelderland

Every year – on the third Saturday in September, we commemorate Operation Market Garden and we honor all the brave men who fought for our freedom.

75th Commmemoration of Operation Market Garden at The Ginkel Heath in Ede on September 22, 2019. Image: ITV News on YouTube

And it’s a beautiful thing and a wonderful end to a remarkable story of one forgotten hero, who was given a well deserved and proper ‘thank you’ by the Dutch people, only 8 months before he would pass away.

It’s our duty now more than ever, to keep on passing these stories to younger generations, so this will never ever happen again.

We shall always remember and they will never be forgotten.

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cortmann. Image: Omroep Gelderland

Rest in peace, Sandy. Fly high, war hero!

☆☆☆

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