Military Records: Episode 209 <<

Susan's Story: Finding her Father

Susan Hadler was born in January 1945, just three months before her father was killed in an explosion in Germany. A V-Mail letter from her father, dated February 15, 1945, was taped to her baby book:

"Dear Susan,
Yours is a pretty good family as families run. Your dad is a bit on the off side. Your mother is the most wonderful person I've ever known. I've always marveled at my great good fortune to have loved her and been loved by her. If you will follow her dictates and examples, you may expect to meet life in the best possible way, and your path will always be the right one. For me, adhere to a belief in tolerance, a genuine liking for others, and always give to life to the fullest. Your father, Dave"

This was all Susan ever knew of her father. In 1992 - nearing her 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of her father's death - she felt the need to fill the void. A few calls led her to the American WWII Orphans Network which, in turn, told her how to get her father's service records.

The records arrived, singed on the edges from a fire that struck the St. Louis repository. In two minutes they revealed more about her father than Susan had ever known. A letter found among the records, dated January 1951 stated that an investigation had failed to reveal a "grave at which to pay homage." It seemed shameful that there was no grave, no final spot that belonged to her father, to his family.

Encouraged by these initial results, Susan worked up the courage to contact members of her father's battalion. One man led to another, and she slowly learned about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Still, this wasn't enough, so she decided to go to Europe to follow the battalion's route across France, Belgium and Germany. With the help of details from the investigation of her father's death and special maps, Susan and her husband drove down a neglected road and eventually came to a place surrounded by barbed wire. Below them was a bowl-shaped crater, where the earth had been carved out.

Susan sat down cross-legged and looked into the crater at the spot where her father died. Her eyes were drawn to a white birch tree on the far hill, which had become radiantly beautiful. A white-gold light shone from the center of it. Heaven had opened. Her father was all right.

When she returned to America, Susan called the American Battle Monuments Commission to arrange for a marker for her father. On July 28, 1997, her father finally got his long overdue funeral - with full ceremony - at Arlington National Cemetery. Her father is no longer lost "somewhere in Germany." In an odd way, he has come home.