Sometimes the selfless act of a complete stranger could alter the path of another person’s life forever.
Netherlands resident Robby Prinsen’s curiosity prompted him to start caring for the gravesite of a WWII veteran, buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.
Prinsen “adopted” PFC Robert A. Hasley, a Cedar Rapids native who died overseas when he was 21 years old. Hasley was one of 75 men brought into the Army by the west-side draft board in January 1943, according to the Gazette.
“He was processed at Fort Dodge and trained at Camp Campbell and Fort Knox, Kent. First transferred to Fort Meade in Maryland in June 1944, Hasley shipped out the following month,” the article said.
Hasley fought in the Battle of the Bulge as part of the First Army, Second Armored Division. In early January 1945 he was “slightly wounded in action.” By the middle of the month, his family received notice that he had succumbed to his injuries.
Prinsen, who says he was curious about the soldiers buried so far from home, learned that Hasley was from Cedar Rapids and contacted the Genealogical Society of Linn County, in Iowa, to see if they could locate any living descendants.
Turns out they could. Hasley had two brothers and a sister, but only one had children. The sister had a daughter named Joan — now in her sixties and living in Colorado– according to Pat Wilkinson, head of research at the genealogical society.
Prinsen said he was nervous about making the initial call to Joan but when he finally mustered the courage, he got through to her. After reciting the family tree, he convinced her he was the real deal.
She was quite surprised that this complete stranger had been caring for her uncle’s grave– driving about 500 miles twice a year to visit the cemetery.
“It also took her breath away seeing (photos of) his grave with the nice flowers and that some random unknown guy — me — does this for a guy that I don’t know. But I think that he died for the freedom of people he also didn’t know,” Prinsen said.
The outcome for him was so rewarding, Prinsen says, he and his wife decided to take on two more American soldiers to “adopt”.
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