By Peter Van Pelt of Belgium, This story is a follow-up to the article on the dog tags of Frank H. Norton Jr.
In February 2016 I received an e-mail from the webmaster of the Dutch website – www.historiek.net – in which he asked me if readers of his site could get in touch with me concerning the article on the dog tags of Frank H. Norton Jr previously published. A short while later I found a message from Mrs. Diana Wijnsma of Groeningen – The Netherlands in my inbox, telling the story of a dog tag her husband and father-in-law found in the neighbourhood of the ‘Netherlands American Cemetery’ at Margraten. The damaged tag belonged to PFC Harlan L. Herrscher.
She was eager to return the dog tag to his next of kin and wanted to know how I succeeded in doing this with Frank’s dog tags and personal belongings. She also informed me about the fact that Harlan was buried at the American Military Cemetery in Margraten and lost his life on April 15, 1945. Harlan was part of the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion, 8th Armored Division… better known as the ‘Thundering Herd.’ She also let me know that they tried in vain to get in touch with his family in the U.S.A.
I immediately contacted Peter Schrijvers – Professor American and International History at the University of New South Wales in Sydney – Australia. Peter is also the author of ‘The Margraten Boys’ and numerous other books on World War II subjects. He replied in letting me know that he would get in touch with some his contacts in the US to solve this issue. Less than a week later Peter came with the message that a journalist from St-Louis Missouri succeeded in tracing a few relatives.
Tony Messenger (metro columnist of the newspaper St. Louis Post-Dispatch) spoke by telephone with two cousins of Harlan. Rick Herrscher (79 years) living in the neighbourhood of Dallas – Texas and still active as and orthodontist. In his younger years, Rick was a quite famous baseball player for the notorious New York Mets. Bart Herrscher (81 years), Rick and the third brother Roger grew up together with Harlan in a southern neighbourhood of St.Louis Missouri. They also informed Tony that Harlan was the holder of a ‘Purple Heart Award,’ fought during the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and got killed in Germany at the age of 20 during the last weeks of the war. Harlan lost his life because a fellow soldier wanted to pick up a German Luger pistol that was booby-trapped and exploded.
The Dutch family Jorritsma-Wijnsma now knew where to send the long-lost dog tag of Harlan L. Herrscher, and so a few days later Rick Herrscher received an express package from Holland… This story is a nice example of international cooperation and how fast a solution can be found.
Through Tony Messenger and the ‘Carondelet Historical Society,’ we were able to get hold of a picture of Harlan. This photo was put to good use during the yearly event ‘The Faces of Margraten’. Since April 2014 the members of the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves try to put photos next to the graves and the names on the Walls of the Missing.
During a period of five days, visitors get the chance to see who their liberators were, pay their respect and thank them for this ‘ultimate sacrifice.’
For more information on these heroes visit: www.fieldsofhonor-database.com