Last month, I was recalling a great story from Dec. 24th, 2010, and an email we had received from the Netherlands in hopes of reuniting a soldier’s family and the woman who cared for his grave. Norm and I had quickly gathered information to send back before we left for our own Christmas Eve celebrations, and I had ended the email with the fact that after Christmas the search for living Hanson family members would begin.
Living descendants were found, and although they knew the story, they did not know that Catherina was still alive. Here, in a nutshell, is how it happened:
The first day back to work after Christmas, I found only one of Elwood’s siblings listed in the telephone book, but nobody answered repeated calls on different days at different times. My spirit was deflated.
My husband was telling about this amazing WWII story at break time at his workplace, Ahlstrom-Schaeffer Electric. He added that I was afraid Elwood’s youngest brother, Franklin, had gone into a nursing home and I was working on getting to the bottom of that. One of the office girls, Chris Lawson, said that she knew Franklin Hanson, that he went to Florida every winter, and that the Town Clerk would have his contact info. A Miracle!
I called the Town Clerk, who loved the story, and then I interrupted Franklin’s bocce ball game. He was so happy to be interrupted for anything having to do with his big brother and was stunned to know that Catherina was still alive and that her Grandson was hoping to reconnect the two families. Over-the-moon was he.
Through Franklin, I learned that Marsha Cheney, who lives in my town of Frewsburg, was his grandniece, and that I should contact her. He would call his kids and tell them the good news.
We all decided that this story was too good to keep to ourselves and with the help of Skype we made plans for the families to meet during the Fenton History Center’s upcoming Flag Day program, “Fighting for the Flag”. Pieter’s beloved Grandma Catherina and Elwood’s youngest brother Franklin met “face to face”, along with the other members of both families. Elwood’s family had been very appreciative of Catherina’s long standing commitment in caring for Elwood’s grave, and they all knew the story. Skype gave them the opportunity to tell Catherina themselves how very much they appreciated her dedication to Elwood. In fact, that very day, Elwood’s family asked if they could visit Catherina and her family and the cemetery within the next year. Catherina leaned over to Pieter, who had been translating, and he burst out laughing as he related that Grandma had advised him that she would be needing a new dress. Many happy tears were shed that day (including people who weren’t even related…).
I’m sure she had at least one new dress when seventeen members of Elwood’s extended local family traveled to the Netherlands to meet Catherina and her family the next spring.
Catherina was over 80 years old at that time and had been unable to negotiate the terrain of the cemetery, however, her son Ter and grandson Pieter are continuing her mission. In Pieter’s words, “ I speak for the whole family when I say that honoring Elwood J. Hanson is the least we can do out of gratitude for our freedom”.
This story was even the inspiration for Carroll Historical Society to launch a new project, the Old Soldier Adoption Program. Many of our War of 1812 and Civil War Veterans have gravestones which are compromised in one way or another. This adoption program enables people who normally see these graves as they are located near their own family plots, to feel empowered to alert the cemetery or the Historical Society if trouble looms. Adopters receive information about the Veteran and some have even taken on the “above and beyond” attitude and also plant flowers on their graves and make sure they weren’t missed when flags were distributed.
Unfortunately, Catherina succumbed to pneumonia about a year after the big reunion, but Pieter’s idea for a Christmas present she would love more than any other was brilliant! Several years ago, Pieter and his brother travelled to the US to visit the Hanson family and I was invited to meet him. You’ll never guess what we all talked about!