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May 31, 2021
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Remembrance

My first name comes from Hjalmer Lindberg.

Had he lived, he would have been a great uncle.

In World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the 94th infantry. He was a sniper who was killed by another.

The story I was told was that first, Hjalmer’s helmet was shot off. This revealed the position of the German sniper. Hjalmer quickly pivoted to return fire, but the German was faster. Hjalmer was shot in the head.

Many details are not known to me. A thousand questions have occurred to me after it’s too late to ask.

Hjalmer was very good friends in the infantry with Erich Gerloff. They had such a strong bond that they made a pact. Should one survive the other, the survivor would travel to meet the other’s family.

Erich’s own life had been dramatic at points. He had been born in Germany, and had crossed the Atlantic three times with his family to escape economic hardship.

He was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and was kept briefly at a stalag. He was on a death march when, because he spoke German well enough, German soldiers told him to get out of the line. They thought he was a spy or agent and were afraid of punishment should he be put to death at their hands.

Erich survived the war, rising in rank through battlefield promotions, assuming I’ve understood the details at all.

He also honored his pact with his friend. He travelled from New York to Wisconsin to visit the Lindbergh family in Wisconsin and proposed to one of Hjalmer’s sisters within a few days.

They married and had a family. Their eldest, a son, they named for Hjalmer, who they had both lost.

That man, the son, was on a tour of duty in Vietnam, when his sister, my mother, was pregnant with me. And she wanted her brother to know she loved him.

Hjalmer is my first name. Erich is my middle name.