|Elshout and VandenOord Story|
A story right out of “A Band Of Brothers”
The Elshout and VandenOord Story
Sometimes you not only get to hear history but you get to witness it. So was the case at the May 10th, 2010, “Night For The Museum”. The remarkable story of WWII bravery in war torn Holland was told by Michael Elshout and Marcel VandenOord. A moving introduction these young men, by Cora Lou Robinson, set the tone for the evening.
First to speak was Michael Elshout, grandson of Leo Elshout. Michael started his talk with the phrase, “I once knew a man…” He spoke of his grandfather Leo’s bravery, courage, and dedication to his family and his country of Holland and his love for America. Leo Elshout and his relatives were heroes to nearly 50 allied soldiers during “Operation Market Garden” in September 1944. Hiding glider pilots from German soldiers for almost 2 months, this family risked their lives to save others from almost certain death.
Operation Market Garden was the code name of an operation planned by the allied forces to take control of three strategic bridges in Holland. The allied forces of Britain, the United States, and Poland sent gliders and paratroopers into the countryside of Holland, which was heavily occupied by German forces. September of 1944 would change many lives forever. Two soldiers, Tinsley Connell from Minden and Leo Elshout from Holland, crossed paths that September. This day would begin a journey that would become a life-altering event for both. Connell would later sponsor Elshout so that he could come to Minden.
One particular part of the story dealt with the 101st Airborne Division. The American soldiers were cautious and not as trusting as the British soldiers that had landed the day before. When Leo and his cousin, David arrived at the site of the glider landing, Leo showed the American soldiers the note that the British soldiers had written, saying that Leo was to be trusted to help. The American commander was Russell Vaught. Vaught at one point during the rescue held a gun to Elshout’s back and told him that if anything went wrong, he would kill him first. Fortunately for the soldiers and Elshout, all arrived safely to their hiding place.
For Elshout’s acts of bravery he received a Presidential Citation signed by then General Dwight D. Eishenhower and was presented with the King’s Medal for Courage by the British Counsel in New Orleans.
Next to speak was Marcel VandenOord cousin to the Elshout family. Marcel’s father was also a key participant in underground operations during WWII Holland. Marcel told of the hardships his parents endured in their native country before arriving in Minden. He also told of his mother’s arrival in New York and that she was quite surprised when she was told that she had not reached her final destination of Minden yet!
Schelley Brown commented, “The event that topped the evening was in the final minutes when all the members of the family were asked to take the stage for questions. It was during this time that funny events and stories were shared by members of the audience. It was then that two strangers, a man and a younger woman sitting on the front row stood up. As the gentleman choked back tears the room fell silent. He introduced himself as ‘My name is Joe Vaught and it was my father that held the gun to Leo’s back. I have been searching for this family for many years. Leo Elshout saved my father’s life.’ You could have heard a pin drop as the tears began to flow from everyone’s eyes. The young woman stood up and introduced herself as Kristi Vaught.”
This father, daughter team had come a long way to tell their part of this story. Kristi had flown in from Honolulu, Hawaii to ride from Houston, Texas with her father. Kristi had found the story on the museum web site several months ago. Brown said, “She had contacted me but never really said why she was interested in the story. We were all shocked to have this part of history played out right before us all at Christopher’s. The Elshout and VandenOord families were equally as surprised and pleased. Kristi also supplied all of us a diary that was written during this time by a possible Elshout relative. She has been doing research on this for 13 years or so. I think Joe and Kristi will be back soon. They were so taken with our town and our people that I feel sure they will be visiting us again.”
The May event was the last in the 2010 series of speakers before the summer break. The “History Pioneer Program” has now started at the Dorcheat Museum. Free admission to the museum all summer long. Special tours will be given Tuesday – Friday and by appointment. All children will receive a special history coloring book with their visit to the museum. Museum board members hope everyone will take advantage of the free summer programs. For more information contact Schelley Brown at 318-423-0192.