Staff Sergeant and Plant City native Eldridge Ira Hutto, who served with the Army’s 259th Infantry Regiment, 65th Division, was only 27 years old when he was killed on March 19, 1945 during World War II. While on a reconnaissance mission in Saarlautern, Germany he was severely wounded by machine gun fire but refused medical treatment, continuing to direct his men in their advance. During that mission, Hutto was killed by fragments from an 88mm shell. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day because his devotion to duty reflects the greatest credit upon himself and his military service.
His nephew, Plant City Farm and Flea Market owner Ferris Waller, has fond memories of his uncle. Waller was seven years old when Hutto was killed in action. “I remember seeing him and my other uncle off, one on a train and the other one a bus, when I was young,” he said. “I’m probably the last person alive that remembers him because I was the oldest of the grandchildren.”
His most vivid memory of Hutto was him tossing him up in the air and then catching him in his grandfather’s front yard at his home on Terrace Drive. “He was one of my favorite uncles, he was just very jolly and always laughing,” he said.
He also remembers when his aunt (Hutto’s wife), Jeanette Wright Hutto received the telegraph that his uncle had died. “We lived right next door to my aunt and my mom went over and comforted her,” he said.
For Hutto and more than 8,000 other American WWII casualties, Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in the small Dutch town of Margraten is their final resting place. The names of another 1,722 soldiers are recorded on the Walls of the Missing. The cemetery is one of 26 overseas American cemeteries that are administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
While Waller has never visited Hutto’s gravesite, some of Margraten’s residents have adopted the graves of the soldiers, treating them like their own family, regularly bringing flowers to the graves. Yde de Jong’s mother, who lived near the cemetery, took care of Hutto’s grave for more than 60 years until her death. Jong now performs that duty. “It’s comforting to know that his grave is being looked after,” said Waller.
In 2014, volunteers in both Europe and the U.S. collected 8,500 photos that are being displayed on the graves and Walls of the Missing. Now, almost 80 years after his death, a group of volunteers in the Netherlands has created a memorial book, “The Faces of Margraten: They Will Remain Forever Young”, to show appreciation for the sacrifices of soldiers like Hutto, whose story is among the 250 that’ve been included in the book.
The book was originally published in Dutch and quickly sold out twice so the authors published an English edition that was presented to officials at the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands on March 3.
“The photos are only on display at the cemetery for a short period of time so we wanted to create a lasting monument in print to these men and women,” the authors of the book, Jori Videc, Sebastiaan Vonk and Arie-Jan Hees, said. “This commemorative book stands as a testament to their service and sacrifice and is not meant to be tucked away on a shelf but deserves a prominent place on anyone’s coffee table, in a classroom, in a library or in a veteran’s post as a daily reminder of those to whom we owe so much.”
Waller hopes to purchase a copy of the book, which is available through the publisher, Amsterdam University Press and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.