Belgium Calling…

This week I’m trying to ease back into blogging after a couple of busy weeks.  I’ve had a couple of stories sitting on the back burner waiting on their turn so I’m telling those this week.  (Actually, I have a BUNCH on the back burner!  I’m hoping the summer is less busy so I can get those written and pushed out to you all!)  Today I want to tell you about a sweet person I “met” via email last month.  This guy’s kindness really moved me.

Around the middle of March, I received an email from a man named Koen BOLCKMANS.  Koen lives in Belgium.  This guy is awesome!  Here’s his pic:

DSC_1001

So, that’s Koen.  He’s pretty amazing.  That gravestone he’s kneeling next to?  That’s our family.  Let me tell you the story.

I’ve heard that many Europeans adopt the graves of American servicemen (sometimes for that person’s lifetime and then they leave care of the grave to a relative to care for when they’re gone).  I didn’t know anyone who did this but I’d heard stories.  I couldn’t have told you if the stories were true or not but it was a nice “feel good” story.  Then Koen emailed me.  For the last 23 years (plus a little) he’s been taking care of this grave.  The man buried in the grave is Henry CONN- the son of Daniel and Myrtle (BAKER) CONN.  Myrtle was the sister of Mary Anne BAKER.  Mary Anne was married to Ervin Alonzo (“Poppy”) DRAKE and the two of them were my paternal 2nd great grandparents.  Henry CONN is buried at the American War Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.  Henry was a Private in 78th Lightning Infantry Division, 311th Regiment, Company G.

BEFORE I FORGET:  IF YOU HAVE A PHOTO OF HENRY CONN OR YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES AND WOULD SCAN AND EMAIL ME A COPY, I WOULD LOVE TO PROVIDE KOEN WITH A PHOTOGRAPH OF HENRY!

Koen told me that he’s tried to research Henry.  (Just a note: he’s done more than try! He knew a lot about Henry before he ever contacted me!)  Koen said Henry was killed in action on the second day of the assault on Kesternich, Germany inside the village clearing houses on 31 January 1945- the same day Henry’s brother, Ernest, turned 26.  Koen sent me a link to Henry’s online memorial.  I encourage you to go visit it at the Fields of Honor database.  Like I said, I have always heard that Europeans adopted the graves of American service men who died overseas.  I just never thought about them caring for one of our family members.  I think Koen is doing a fabulous job, don’t you?  I do need to mention that his friend, Astrid van Erp, helps him with this endeavor.  Astrid had asked a question on a public forum that I answered prior to Koen’s email so I actually “met” Astrid first.

Henry Aubrey CONN was born 23 July 1914 in Reeds, Jasper County, Missouri.  His parents were Daniel and Myrtle (BAKER) CONN.  Henry was the fourth of six children born to Daniel and Myrtle.

In 1922, when Henry was 7 years old, he wrote a letter to Santa that was published in the Galena, Kansas newspaper:

dear santa letter henry conn week 16

I have had a lot of trouble following the family through the census records but I do know that in 1925, the family was living in Lafayette, Chautauqua County, Kansas.  In 1925, Henry was 10 years old.  He was not attending school and he couldn’t read or write.

On 19 April 1940 when the census enumerator (Benjamin RYBURN) came to the CONN home, the family was living in Beaty, Delaware County, Oklahoma.  Henry was single, still living with his parents, and was working as a mechanic’s helper at a local garage.  In October of that same year he completed his draft card.  He listed his residence at that time as San Leandro, Alameda County, California.  There are several issues with the draft card.  Henry originally listed an Oakland, California address.  That was crossed out in 1941 and the San Leandro address was typed in.  He listed his mom as living in South West City, McDonald County, Missouri.  This is only a small discrepancy because the Beaty area of Delaware County, Oklahoma connects to South West City, McDonald County, Missouri.  Apparently the discrepancy between San Leandro, California and Oakland, California is also minor.  Henry did state that he worked in Oakland for a man named Billy Rose.

henry conn draft card week 16

Just over a year later, in November of 1941, Henry enlisted in the Army and eventually went to war in the European theatre in World War II.

henry conn draft notice week 16

He went missing on his brother Ernest’s birthday – 31 January 1945.  Henry was 31 years old when he went missing.  According to Koen, Henry was “killed in action on the second day of the assault on Kesternich, Germany, inside the village clearing houses on 31 January 1945.”  Henry was awarded the Purple Heart.  He was buried in American War Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.  Koen provided me with this news article giving Henry’s MIA status.

henry conn mia week 16

You can read a detailed account of the battle at Kesternich, Germany in this PDF document:

kesternich germany battle henry conn week 16

The day before and day of Henry’s death is detailed beginning on the report page numbered 14 (on the PDF it is page 15 of 50).

If you’d like the Wikipedia version, go here.  You can also read the historynet.com version at this link.  For some great photos, try the Facebook group.  You can read about the 78th Lightning Infantry Division at Wikipedia here.  A booklet was published about the 78th and you can read that online here.  You can find a photo of GI’s with the 78th here.  There is a lot of information on the internet about the 78th and about Company G.  I encourage you to Google it and take a look at the links.

Before closing, I want to provide this article from The Sarcoxie Record about Koen.  He emailed it to me so I thought I would provide it here so you can learn a little more about Koen.

sarcoxie record page 1 henry conn week 16

sarcoxie record page 2 henry conn week 16

To Koen, I’d like to say thank you for taking care of Henry’s grave and for contacting me to let me know where Henry is buried.  I hope someone returns the favor to you one day.

Until next week,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives blog

Sources for this post include:

Koen Bolckmans & Astrid Van Erp; Newspapers.com; Ancestry.com; Fold3

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