In a small county, many knew the servicemen who did not come home from battles of WWII
Don’t tell Allen Buchholz that history is confined to the pages of dusty volumes and yellowed maps.
For the past six months, Buchholz has been sleuthing for names, photos and life stories of the Ozaukee County servicemen who lost their lives during World War II.
The fruit of that work — at least to this point — will be on display in the form of 55 storyboards that will be shared with those attending a World War II re-enactment at Pioneer Village in the Town of Saukville on Saturday, May 21.
The event is being billed “Breaching the Reich,” portraying the dramatic days as Allied forces made their final advances against the borders of Nazi Germany. As many as 150 re-enactors in period uniforms are expected to participate.
It is a follow-up to a similar event held last year at the village.
Buchholz is vice president of the Ozaukee County Historical Society, which is hosting the re-enactment.
Buchholz, who lives in Cedarburg, served for six years with the National Guard, but he said the motivation for getting involved in the history project is much more personal.
“My father and six uncles all served in World War II, and thankfully all returned without a scratch,” Buchholz said.
Still, that family legacy and his Luxembourg heritage gave rise to a passion for learning more about the history of the war that forever altered the face of Europe.
“I’ve visited Normandy three times and gone to eight American cemeteries in Europe,” Buchholz said. He has also secured dual-citizenship from Luxembourg, the motherland of his ancestors.
Buchholz said he decided to share the stories of the local war heroes after seeing the keen interest generated by last year’s battle re-enactment at Pioneer Village.
“We had a school day for students before last year’s event, and you could see how engaged the kids were when we talked about the war,” Buchholz said.
That event attracted 1,100 people, and an even larger crowd is anticipated this year.
Buchholz decided if he wanted to bring the horrors and heroism of war to life, the time was now — while many family members of those killed are still alive.
Buchholz spent months combing all references to local servicemen that appeared in Ozaukee Press and the Cedarburg News between 1941 and 1945.
“You have to remember this was a small county at the time of the war, and virtually everyone knew the guys from town who were fighting,” he said.
When he couldn’t find documentation about how a veteran died, he often made phone calls to people in the area with the same last name.
In a lot of cases, Buchholz said they became choked with emotion as they talked about their deceased relative.
In most cases he was able to track down at least scant details about how the servicemen died, and a little bit about their lives before heading off to war.
“It was emotional and exciting. I fancy myself a bit of a detective, and often I would find a piece of information that would lead to the next piece,” Buchholz said.
Some of his research involved a bit of conjecture, where he would find out what unit the serviceman was in and what battle they were engaged in at the time of the local man’s death.
“In those cases, I say something like, ‘this mostly likely happened,’” Buchholz said.
Some stories were well-documented and others less known. All relate the tragedy of war, he said.
One of the display boards tells about the life of U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. Roy Harms, 26, of Grafton, one of 310 airmen killed on Aug. 1, 1943 during bombing raids on the Ploesti oil refinery in Romania.
Harms became one of the namesakes of the Grafton American Legion Post.
Another board retells the heroic life of Sgt. Joseph Grotelueschen, 28, of Port Washington, who died Dec. 14, 1944, in the Philippines. Before his death, Grotelueschen earned three Purple Hearts for being wounded in battle and the Bronze Star.
Death is not always heroic in time of war, Buchholz said.
Consider the case of Staff Sgt. Arthur Schils, of Port Washington, the first draftee from the county to serve in the war.
He died of injuries sustained in a jeep accident at Camp Campbell, Ky. on April 5, 1943.
And then there is the story of a life interrupted. Lt. Robert Schanen of Port Washington graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
During the war, Schanen served aboard a B-17 bomber. His plane crashed while returning to England from a bombing run over Nazi-held France.
He died on Sept. 16, 1943 — his 26th birthday.
Buchholz said the story board about Cpl. Eugene Senger, 23, of Grafton, underlines “the irony of war.”
Senger was part of the D-Day invasion of France, and also fought in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. In the process, Senger earned five Battle Stars and was in Czechoslovakia on V-E Day, the end of fighting in Europe.
On Aug. 5, 1945, he died of a tonsil infection and diphtheria in a German hospital.
Buchholz said his research also reminded him that many of those who fought and died were spirited, even fun-loving young men.
“There is the story of Lt. Paul Wiening, who was co-pilot on a C-47. He made a point of flying over his hometown of Port Washington before heading overseas, nearly clipping the clocktower of the courthouse because his old man was a custodian there,” Buchholz said.
Wiening died Sept. 17, 1944, on the first day of Operation Market Garden in Holland. His plane was shot down and his remains were never recovered.
Buchholz said the remains of 16 county war casualties are buried in foreign cemeteries and 12 more have never been recovered.
“A large number of the servicemen from the area who lost their lives were airmen. Often their remains were lost in explosions or when their planes went down over open water,” he said.
“The remains that weren’t destroyed in those crashes were often taken by sharks.”
While showing the story boards during Saturday’s event, Buchholz said he hopes to gather even more details about the heroes described.
“I’m not done. You never know if someone might say, ‘I knew that guy. I have a better picture of him than that,’” Buchholz said.
After the war re-enactment, the displays will become part of the Historical Society’s permanent archives in Cedarburg.
Photo Credit: Tragic and inspiring tales of Ozaukee’s war dead are told in storyboards created by Allen Buchholz for a display to be unveiled this Saturday at Pioneer Village