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The Netherlands honors Willmar World War II veteran

WILLMAR, Minn. -- A Willmar man is among seven Minnesota soldiers who will be honored by the Netherlands government for helping liberate part of central Holland during a harrowing mission 65 years ago.

Lyle Sande was among 20,000 U.S., British and Polish troops who parachuted or floated in gliders into central Holland on Sept. 17, 1944. Their mission, called Operation Market Garden, was to secure a number of Dutch bridges to help Allied tanks get across the Rhine and into Germany near the end of World War II.

Sande and the other six veterans living in Minnesota were invited to a ceremony in the State Capitol in St. Paul in mid-October to receive honorary Orange Lanyards for helping liberate the city of Nijmegen during the period from Sept. 17 to Oct. 4, 1944.

The gesture corrected an oversight more than six decades in the making.

One year after the battle took place, the Netherlands minister of war issued a decree that members of Sande's outfit, the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, would receive the Orange Lanyards based on the division's outstanding performance during the airborne operations and ensuing fighting.

Sande, and the other Minnesota soldiers, never received the award, however, because their records were lost in a fire many decades ago. However, the Dutch government learned from former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman about the medals that were never awarded they embarked on last month's ceremony to honor the men.

The lanyards were presented by the Dutch consul in Minneapolis, Marc A. Al.

Sande was unable to attend due to ill health, but a friend brought his lanyard home.

As with others of his generation, Sande accepted the honor modestly: "I'm not a hero and I don't intend to be a hero but I was in there just with the rest of the guys."

Sande, 86, joined the Army in 1943 and was a gliderman in the 82nd's 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. A glider was towed by a twin-engine C-47 and was used to fly troops and vehicles into battle areas. Once the glider was released, the pilot and co-pilot had only a few short minutes to land. Many gliders crashed into trees, killing the occupants.

Sande parachuted in Normandy but flew into Holland. The massive and daring mid-day mission caught some of the Nazi Panzer tank divisions by surprise. But hundreds of Allied troops were killed during the next few weeks.

Sande recalls the fighting was a tremendous battle.

"The Germans were waiting for us. They were not going to leave the country of Holland. It took a little while to get them out of there," he said.

Two days before the fighting ended, Sande was wounded in the back in Mook, Holland.

A native of Garretson, S.D., Sande worked 46 years in the grocery business, including 24 years for the former Tom and Bill's Red Own of Willmar. He retired on Dec. 31, 1992.

David Little is a reporter for the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.