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|Geplaatst: 30 Apr 2007 17:17 Onderwerp: A book about the 368 Americans buried at Flanders Field
|Authors trace roots of two WWI Flanders Field soldiers to Colton
Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/27/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT
Since he was a boy, Patrick Lernout wondered about the white crosses.
Over the years, his curiosity became an obsession.
Now, the 53-year-old Belgian is determined to tell the story of the brave American soldiers who gave their lives for his country's freedom in World War I.
Lernout is writing a book about the 368 Americans buried at Flanders Field, a U.S. military cemetery about a mile from his home in Waregem, Belgium.
During his research, Lernout discovered that two of the crosses belong to Adolph O. Zaiss and Charles S. Brokaw, both of whom lived in Colton in the early 1900s.
Lernout said he wants to make sure men such as Zaiss and Brokaw are not forgotten - even by relatives who know little or nothing about them.
"I wanted to show my gratitude to the United States by honoring these men," Lernout said in a phone interview from Belgium.
"It will be 90 years ago that they were killed. This is a way of making people remember them."
Lernout's interest in World War I was piqued at age 14 when he visited an American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, where Americans from World War II are buried.
"That left such an impression on me that I wanted to know more about the men under those crosses," he said.
But his career as a human resources manager left him no time to pursue his interest until six years ago.
He teamed with Christopher Sims, an English friend who works at Flanders Field, to learn about the men who fought and died in the war.
They have collected information from books, libraries, the Internet, historical societies, newspaper articles and burial files from the National Archives in Washington.
Lernout and Sims want to come to the United States later this year to finish their research. They hope to have the book published next year.
Lernout said he has contacted many people who had no idea that a family member was buried at Flanders Field.
Ginny Suelzle is a great-niece of Zaiss, a U.S. Army private from the 363rd Infantry Regiment, 91st Division who died Oct. 31, 1918.
The Great War would come to an end 11 days later, on Nov. 11.
Zaiss and Brokaw met their fate on the same day in the service of their country, even as peace negotiations were under way and some enemy forces were seeking an armistice.
Suelzle has been trying to research Zaiss' family history, but she said it's hard because he has almost no surviving relatives.
"I think it's great that Patrick has taken on this project," Suelzle said from her home near Seattle. "I'm excited to see what he comes up with."
Lernout was able to find Suelzle through a Web site that lists her family tree.
She provided him with a few facts.
Zaiss was born on Nov. 16, 1887, in Denver. His parents, who were German immigrants, died before he went to war.
He married Bertha Haak in Denver in 1908. They had no children.
The 1910 federal census says that Zaiss worked as an electrician for a tramway company.
It is unclear when Zaiss moved to Colton.
His draft registration card dated June 5, 1917, shows he lived in Colton and worked as a car inspector for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Lernout said Zaiss went to Camp Lewis in Washington state for training. He served in the 91st Division, called the Wild West Division because its draftees were from the Western United States. Half the division was from California.
Lernout and Sims have not found any descendants of Brokaw.
But they have been helped in their research by Scott Klemm, a retired Colton High School history teacher who read a newspaper article about the project.
Klemm said he learned of Brokaw when he was writing a book about the history of Colton High, "100 Years of Crimson and Gold Pride: Colton High School 1895-1996."
Brokaw was born in 1898 in Phillipsburg, N.J. His family moved to Colorado in 1908 and later to Colton.
Klemm said Brokaw was the first Colton High student to die in World War I.
He was one of 21 members of the Class of 1916.
Based on photos obtained by Lernout, Brokaw evidently played on the school's baseball and basketball teams.
Brokaw went to Cleveland to go to college. When the United States joined the war in 1917, Klemm said, Brokaw was one of the first men to volunteer and enlist with the National Guard of Ohio.
He served in the Third Infantry Division, which later became the 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Division, of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Brokaw was promoted to corporal and fought in the famous Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France in the fall of 1918.
In mid-October, the final attack by Allied Powers was not going well.
The Belgian Army under King Albert asked for reinforcements. American General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing ordered the 37th and 91st divisions to join forces.
The main objective of the operation, which began in Waregem, was to push the Germans through Brussels back into Germany.
As members of the two divisions, Zaiss and Brokaw fought side by side in Belgium in the waning days of the war.
They were both killed on the first day of the Turnip Battle, part of the final offensive in Belgium known as Ypres-Lys.
Klemm said the two young men might have died in vain.
"The war was coming to an end," said Klemm, of Highland. "The Germans wanted to surrender, but we wanted to push our advantage and try harder to destroy the German Army."
Klemm compares their deaths to the fate of the main character in the novel, "All Quiet on the Western Front," who died at the end of the war.
"We probably unnecessarily sacrificed young men when the war was coming to an end anyway," Klemm said. "If they could have survived one more week, they would have come home."
Contact writer Stephen Wall at (909) 386-3916 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
PATRICK LERNOUT and CHRISTOPHER SIMS are writing a book about the American soldiers buried at Flanders Field in Belgium. They would like to hear from anyone with information about these World War I veterans. They can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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