Here is the story about my connection to the Texan soldier Ewald Schroeder, who rests in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, written in 2013 by the long-time cemetery custodian-guide/associate Erwin Franzen:
My friend Nico Schroeder was born in Luxembourg City in 1934. He had just reached elementary school age when Hitler’s troops invaded and occupied Luxembourg in May 1940. The Nazis tightened their control of the country in the following years, declaring that Luxembourg was German, changing all French names to German, forbidding the teaching of French and executing many people who opposed them.
Later they forced young Luxembourg men to join the German Army and sent them off to fight in Russia, where thousands of them perished. Those who hid or deserted were summarily executed if caught and if not their families were deported to slave labor camps. The fairly large Jewish community in Luxembourg was almost completely annihilated in Nazi death camps.
In September 1944 American troops of the 5th Armored Division and the 28th Infantry Division entered Luxembourg City from the southwest after German forces retreated to the east. Local residents, including Nico’s family, welcomed their liberators with great jubilation. Ten-year-old Nico and other kids in his neighborhood, through which the Americans passed on their way to the city center, were very curious about the impressive uniformed men who started handing out chocolate.
Nico today remembers how he and two friends watched one day as some of those soldiers went to a nearby park and hung canvas buckets filled with water from the branches of a tree. The men showered under those buckets. A very surprising turn of events some 60 years later would bring back Nico’s memory of this minor incident.
Two months after the liberation of Luxembourg the Nazis launched a huge counter-offensive across the northern part of the country and into Belgium, breaking through the lines of the US First Army, which had driven them from this region. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., whose US Third Army was pushing from France into the German Saarland southeast of here at that time, turned some of his forces north to attack the flank of the Nazi onslaught. The ensuing combat in the harsh winter of 1944-45 would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans suffered over 80,000 casualties in that 6-week battle.
In late December 1944, as the fighting raged in the north, the Third Army started burying some of its dead in a glade east of Luxembourg City that years later would become the Luxembourg American Cemetery. The Third Army joined with forces of the First Army to wipe out the German Bulge and went on to cross the Rhineland in much heavy fighting through March 1945. Hitler’s “Reich” was brought to an end in May of that year.
In the years after the war many Luxembourgers visited the graves of the American soldiers who had driven the Nazis from their soil and now remained behind in this cemetery. Nico was one of them. He was fascinated by the place, because he had come to truly admire the soldiers who saved his country.
At some point, during one of his visits, he found the grave of a soldier whose name matched his own, with the exact same spelling. He decided to “adopt” the grave but could not find out much about that soldier other than the short entry on him in the cemetery burial register. The soldier’s name was Ewald Schroeder, and he was from Texas and had been a member of the 112th Infantry Regiment 28th Division. He had died during a river crossing under enemy fire on the German border on 20 September 1944, exactly 10 days after Luxembourg was first liberated.
For many years afterwards Nico tried in vain to find more information on this soldier. In 2004 the World War II Memorial was opened in Washington DC, and Americans were invited to submit names of people they knew who had served in the war for inclusion in an online registry. Sometime
later a friend of Nico’s found Ewald’s name listed in that registry, with a photograph of him in Army uniform. The person who had submitted his name was a Mrs. Minnie Schlortt, a cousin. As her family name was uncommon it was not difficult to find her in Texas, Ewald’s home state. Another friend of Nico’s found Minnie’s address and telephone number online in the US White Pages.
Minnie was very surprised and happy the first time Nico called her and told her he had ‘adopted’ Ewald’s grave. It turned out Minnie had in her possession most of Ewald’s affairs including photographs and letters he wrote to his family from Europe in the days before he died.
She told Nico she was getting old and there was no one else in the family who wanted to keep these mementos, so she offered to send them to him for safekeeping. Nico was only too happy to receive them.
When he went through Ewald’s letters he found one dated 17 September 1944, three days before he was killed. For some reason Ewald’s family had never opened it as it arrived only after they learned of his death.
Nico was stunned when he read it, because Ewald mentioned that he and some of his buddies had showered under canvas buckets hung from a tree in a Luxembourg City park as boys from the neighborhood watched them. This is when Nico realized he must have been one of those boys.