Even today French locals, other Europeans and Americans find themselves drawn to the Meuse-Argonne region of France. Once drawn there, many return time and again; often working on a multi-year research or preservation project. In this irregular interview series, the Webmaster hopes to introduce readers to some of these individuals and their labors of love.
1. What are your name, nationality and occupation?
Sjoerd van der Ven; Dutch; Assistant Manager, Pall Mall Store
2. Which languages do you speak, and how fluently do you speak them?
Dutch, fluently; English, professionally; French, reasonably well
3. When was your first visit to the Meuse-Argonne?
In 1998 when I was four weeks old my parents brought me to their house in Tailly.
4. When did you really find yourself drawn to the Meuse-Argonne?
I have always been. I spent almost every vacation I had during my youth in Tailly, so I partly grew up here.
5. What is your primary interest in the region?
World War 1 and the participation of the AEF during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive–especially the 89th Division sector.
6. Approximately how many times and/or how often do you visit the Meuse-Argonne?
I try to come as much as I can. The last few years that was about four times a year.
7. What do you do when you visit?
I’m studying the liberation of Tailly by the U.S. 89th Division. I try to connect the past with the present as I want to reenact this event 100 years later in 2018.
8. What research or preservation projects are you working on currently?
- My private investigation on the 89th Division and preparation for the reenactment of the liberation of Tailly in 2018.
- I’m also the Chief of Overseas Ground Research for Doughboy MIA.
- My living history impression: The Dutch Doughboy.
9. What research or preservation projects have you completed in the past?
- Providing the museum Romagne ’14-’18 a living history experience with my doughboy impression.
10. What is your favorite spot in the Meuse-Argonne and why?
Tailly. I really call this my home! Also the Bois de Bantheville as it was the jump-off line for the 89th Division on 1 November, 1918. The Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon is also a special place for me.
11. History aside, what is your favorite thing to do in the Meuse-Argonne?
Being with my French friends, wild boar hunting and enjoying the French culture and nature.
12. Schedule permitting, would you consider being a tour guide for individuals or groups traveling to the sector?
I’d love to share my knowledge of the AEF in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and World War 1!
13. How can readers contact you for assistance or for more details?
[email protected] or, on Facebook, The Dutch Doughboy
14. Any other comments?
- I want to thank my parents, Ans and Rens van der Ven, for the opportunity to grow up like this and their support and help in building my dream.
- I want to thank Jean-Paul de Vries for the help and being such an inspiration.
- I want to thank Steve Husson for being the best French friend and neighbor I could have.
- Feel free to contact me for information.
- If you have photos, family members or anything about the 89th Division I would love to hear from you!
Webmaster’s comment: Reenactors who are interested in participating in a reenactment of the liberation of Tailly in early November, 2018 are encouraged to contact Sjoerd. Likewise, anyone interested in the 89th Division should get in touch with this hard-working, young researcher!