In 1946, a 22-year-old Dutch woman made a promise to a deceased World War II soldier from North Carolina whom she had never met. Betty Habets-Vrancken promised PFC Eddie Hart that she would always visit and care for his grave in the Netherlands American Cemetery near her home in Meersen, Holland.
She wrote a letter to the private's sister, Hattie:
"Dear Miss Hart, I am a Dutch girl and I live in the south part of Holland. I guess you know that there is buried your older brother Eddie and I have adopted his grave. I hope, dear Miss Hart, that this will be a little better for you to know that your brother's grave is not lonely and forgotten."
When Betty moved to the United States in 1957, her brother Johan took over her duties tending Eddie's grave. For 57 years, she and Johan tended the grave of this soldier they never knew, visiting several times a year to refresh the flowers and pay their respects.
"Thank You Eddie Hart," an Emmy-winning documentary airing tonight on UNC-TV, tells the story of this young Lenoir County farmer who lost his life in Germany in the waning days of World War II, but was honored by strangers who so valued his sacrifice.
The film traces the lives of Hart and Habets-Vrancken through the war, and interviews veterans who served with Hart, including LaFayette Smith of Kinston and Paul Willis of Canton.
The film also shows Hart's sister Hattie Hart-Holloman, who still lives in Lenoir County, making the emotional trip to Holland in 2002 to meet Johan and visit her brother's grave.
"Thank You, Eddie Hart" airs tonight at 9pm on UNC-TV.
Eddie Hart's enlistment record
Eddie Hart on the Honor List of Dead and Missing Soldiers
Click the document below to view information on Eddie Hart's burial site: