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The whole purpose of our European road trip was to go see where Greg’s twin great uncles, Henry and William (Hank and Bill) were buried in France. Good ol’ farm boys from North Dakota (the best kind of boys), they were both Technicians Fifth Class in the US Army, 56th Engineer Battalion, 11th Armored Division. They were sleeping in the back of the same truck when it was hit by a shell, mortally wounding them both.
I don’t do well with World War II vets. Read: They make me cry. I’m damn near hysterical when I see them on movies and television, let alone in real life. Why, just a few weeks before we left I was helping hold pressure after we pulled a femoral arterial line from a 90+ yr old vet and we started to talk about the war and I mentioned the uncles and immediately started crying. I wonder what that man thought, lying there flat, unable to move with me crying over his crotch. I apologized and informed him I was, in fact, premenstrual, and that we should probably change the subject. He didn’t argue.
That said, I was looking forward to the cemetery as much as Greg was, but first we had to get there. I forgot our European road atlas at home, but had my smartphone so I thought we’d be ok. Turns out you have to have internet to get the gps to work, so that got pretty interesting. I drove the whole time while Greg navigated like a champ, using only the map on the phone, most of the time without any direction. It really was a nice way to see the countryside, though it took us about three hours longer to get to the cemetery than we thought. I name all my gps’ Karen so I can scream at them like Henry Hill “Karen! Why did you do that?!” when Karen dumped all the coke down the toilet. It’s a game we play.
We went to the visitor’s center for a map of the grounds and told the woman there who we were looking for. She didn’t know about the twins, and was happy to hear they were there. There’s only one other set in the cemetery that she knows of, and she asked Greg to send her all the information he has on them so she can add it to their files. She was very helpful and friendly, and offered to walk us to the graves herself, but we declined. I knew I’d be a blubbering mess and didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of yet another stranger.
I’ve never felt more humbled or appreciative in my life than standing in front of those graves. Greg wanted to give them a piece of North Dakota but didn’t bring anything with us. Well it doesn’t get much more North Dakota than Papa Joe’s farm shirt.
After crying it out we introduced ourselves. I imagined when we walked up they were sitting around a card table, smoking cigarettes with their friends, and they recognized Greg immediately as an ornery Warcken. From what it sounds like we all would’ve been good friends. It was an amazing experience and for you Warckens who have wanted to see them, I hope you get the opportunity.
“Early that morning, the 13th, while the Company (less the First Platoon) was having chow, the enemy suddenly opened up with their artillery in our area. Bill and Hank Warcken, twin brothers, and C. R. Brown, all of the Third Platoon, were in a 2-and-l/2-ton truck which received a direct hit and another close hit, mortally wounding the Warcken twins. C. R. Brown was seriously injured. After S/Sgt. Belmont, medic attached to our Company, applied first aid the wounded men were quickly evacuated to the collecting station, where the Warcken brothers died of their wounds. C. R. Brown lost one leg, and the other leg and one of his arms were badly shattered by shrapnel. The Warcken twins were real buddies to everyone in the Company, and will remain forever in our memories and hearts. We are all hoping and praying for the best for C. R. Brown.”
Peter Schrijvers mentions them in his book Those Who Hold Bastonge:
“A single shell killed William and Henry Warcken, leaving the unit in shock as the good-natured twin brothers from North Dakota had been like a mascot to the men.”