KENILWORTH, NJ - Michael Naya, a senior at David Brearley High School, has been fascinated with history since he started reading books about the Titanic when he was seven years old. For the past three years he has been interviewing Great Depression survivors, World War II civilians and veterans, as well as Korean War veterans. He has been documenting their stories in the hopes of one day writing a book on their lives and the events that they have witnessed. He wishes to honor the stories of those we have lost and those that are still living. In just three years Naya has interviewed either in person, by phone, or sent letters to 80 veterans. Naya was also recently featured on Channel News 12 in Education Matters May 24, 2019.
Last year as a part of his ongoing research, Naya put an ad in the Battle of the Bulge association’s newsletter, The Bulge Bugle. The Battle of the Bulge Association honors veterans and preserves their legacy. Naya’s questionnaire was directed towards veterans. Then he received a letter that changed everything. “I received a letter from a Belgian-American man named Christian W. de Marcken who grew up in Belgium during World War II. Throughout the course of our letter correspondence he shared many details of his and his wife’s incredible lives.”
The Naya family took a family trip to Massachusetts to meet the de Marckens at their home in Worcester. As Naya explains, “they have such an incredible story, and it was an opportunity I did not want to miss out on meeting them.”
In Naya’s words he tells the story of the Christian de Marcken.
Christian was born as an American citizen and grew up in Belgium during the Great Depression and World War II. World War II began on September 2, 1939 and Belgium was invaded on May 10, 1940 by German forces. Christian and his family were forced to live under Nazi occupation for four and a half years. The de Marckens had to live in their home with a German guard guarding and watching their every move.
Christian’s mother made an American flag in secret. She would sew this flag late at night when the family was asleep. This all had to be done in secret because if his mother was caught making this flag she would have been executed. She was proud of her family’s identity as Americans. When the Americans came and liberated them, she hung this flag on the flagpole and waved it proudly since the Americans were finally there to rescue her family.
Christian’s father was sent to a prisoner camp. His father was held in the camp for many months until he managed to escape and reunite with his family at a church service. Christian’s father was active in the underground resistance movements against the Nazis and was able to fight against the Nazis without putting the family in danger.
After World War II, Christian met his soon to be wife Jeanne Moncheur de Rieudotte. She had lost her mother due to the German army taking away her mother's medicine that was needed for her to stay alive. Jeanne and Christian wanted to leave behind their war-torn country and moved to America in 1952. Now sixty-seven years later, Christian is ninety-one and Jeanne is eighty-nine.
Among the many items of memorabilia, the de Marckens showed Naya the flag that Christian’s mother had made nearly eighty years ago. Naya explains “the de Marckens visit schools in Massachusetts and are heavily involved with the Battle of the Bulge association. Together they strive to preserve and keep alive the memory of Belgium during World War II.” The eightieth anniversary of World War 11 is soon and Naya concludes, “we must remember those who lived through the war and those who served in the military at that time.”