Schinnen Garrison opens doors to locals to mark 40th anniversary
When French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his nation’s military from NATO’S command structure in 1967, the small Dutch mining town of Schinnen turned to the U.S. Army for help.
Two years before, the Dutch government announced it would close all the country’s coal mines, including the facility in Schinnen. Cheap and abundant supplies of natural gas in the north had rendered the mines obsolete. Residents of South Limburg, the Dutch mining region, felt shafted.
"When the mine closed down, there was nothing here anymore," said Rita Hoefnagels, a resident of the region. "The mine was one of the main employers in the area."
It could be said that, in some vein, de Gaulle’s actions actually saved Schinnen because when the French moved out, the Dutch asked the U.S. Army to move in, which it did. A facility was needed to support U.S. soldiers assigned to some of the newly relocated NATO bases in the Netherlands and Belgium.
The Army eventually opened a support base in 1969 on the grounds of the Schinnen mine, known as Shaft 4, of the larger Emma Mine Complex.
Base and local officials plan to mark the 40th anniversary of the Army’s arrival with a two-day observance on Sept. 19-20. On Sept. 18, the anniversary of the 1944 liberation of Schinnen, there is an invitation-only reception at the town hall.
For Americans, the primary day to celebrate is Sept. 19, when the Army will allow local residents on post for the first time in years. The daylong fest, which will run from 2 to 8 p.m., will feature World War II re-enactors, exhibits, rides, live music and food.
"You never know what would have happened if the Americans had not come, but we’re glad they are here," said Wilfried Dabekaussen, spokesman for the local municipality, which includes Schinnen and several smaller towns.
The base at Schinnen provides logistical support to Americans assigned to the Joint Forces Command in Brunssum, Netherlands, and to the Airborne Warning and Control System base in Geilenkirchen, Germany.
At its peak, the mine employed about 6,000 people underground, said Hoefnagels, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen. These days, the military base employs far fewer people, maybe 200 locals. But in those early years, the base gave leaders of the Netherlands’ hilliest region time to regroup as they restructured their economy.
As for the tall mining shaft, it was torn down in 1992 and the gaping hole in the ground was filled in, Hoefnagels said. The old mine is located directly behind the bank, below what is now Posey Circle, a popular gathering place for base personnel and visitors, featuring benches and a water fountain.
For more information on the upcoming event, go to the community Web site at: www.usagschinnen.eur.army.mil.