A sister’s love takes on the U.S. Army

November 12, 2017

The email came in from across the Atlantic:

“After exactly 52 weeks I got it yesterday…….Amazing to read and heartbreaking letters from his sister asking that his body stays at cemetery where he was buried after he was recovered from wreck”

It came from my fellow friend in history Peter den Tek.  Peter is the man that readers of past columns may recall as the man from Asperen, Holland who took finding a single WWII .50 caliber machine gun shell and turned it into a permanent memorial for fallen allied airmen in the townsquare of Gissenlanden.

The topic of the email is the IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel File) of one Jerre M. Algeo, S/Sgt. United States Army Air Corps serial number 37224874.  Jerre is the man from Golden City who as a farmer vital to the war effort would have received an exemption from service but instead moved his sisters to town, reported for duty on October 1, 1942 and saw his life ended on the afternoon of July 28, 1942 by a 20 millimeter German shell.  He breathed his last breath, alone in the belly of a B-17 spiraling down to Earth from the skies of above Holland.  Such was the fate of thousands in that “Air War over Europe”.

After over two years of research by two men on both sides of the Atlantic there is still very little known about the life of Jerre.  We know he was born on August 5, 1908, we know he and his sisters were deeded the family farm on July 2, 1937, and we know he attended Lockwood High School because his picture is on their yearbook “In Memoriam” page along with seven other classmates lost in the war.

But it is in his “death file” that a last desperate attempt at humanity is told.

The story begins with Jerre’s body recovered from the wreck of his B-17 and initial burial in the local church cemetery in the village of Schelluinen.  It picks up again in February, 1946 with an Army Graves Registration “Report of Investigation” and the transmittal of Jerre’s German Registration Card to Headquarters.

Up to this point the file is the usual, antiseptic military correspondence.

But as the Army is going about its official business comes one A. Verslius who helped bury Jerre in ‘43 that puts the humanity to it.  In January of ’46 he writes the War Department for address of Jerre’s next of kin so he can “write to this family I know all about this soldier” (sic).

Mr. Verslius gets that address and writes to Jerre’s sister Icae regarding his internment which prompts her on March 17, 1946 to write the Quartermaster General’s office that “The family feels that they would prefer leaving his body in this churchyard rather than having it moved to a national cemetery.”

On March 29, 1946 the Army replied in dutiful military order that “The War Department policy is to fulfill your request in so far as it is at all practicable.”

Correspondence that unfortunately wasn’t worth the paper it was typed as on April 25, 1946, Icae wrote back:

Dear Sir:

My grief was greatly increased today when I learned through a letter from a citizen of Holland that my request, the only one I’ve asked, concerning the disposition of my brother’s body was denied after I was assured that my wishes in the matter would be consulted.

Now I am asking only this one request.  Sufficient time has elapsed since his body was removed for a letter to reach me from Holland.  Surely you can tell me where his body has now been placed.  I wish to make this next very emphatic:  Please do not move the body again. 

In the end, Icae lost her battle with the Army and Jerre’s body was indeed moved again and now rests in Plot H, Row 8, Grave 12 along with over 8,000 of his fellow service members in the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands.

I don’t know if Icae ever overcame her grief, but I’d like to think that in the end, the idea of Jerre being among his brethren in arms brought at least some peace to her heavy heart.

Our history is filled with the names of famous veterans, of books written and movies made.  All deserving, no doubt, but let us never forget the Jerre and Icae’s as well.

That all veterans, no matter service, nor rank, nor fame; in the halls of remembrance stand tall, all the same.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE: A version of this column first appeared in the Sunday print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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