It wasn’t something Jane Beattie discussed, the death of her son on the beaches of France 65 years ago today and the death of her other son less than a year later on a battlefield in Germany.

Beattie, the mother of six on a farm near St. James, had already lost a son in infancy. The oldest of nine children, she’d seen four of her eight brothers sent to another European war nearly three decades earlier.

Her brothers returned safely from the first world war. Her two sons didn’t from the second. David Beattie was reported missing in action on June 6, 1944, during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Norman James Beattie was wounded in 1945 and died 12 days later.

That was pretty much all that was known about the fates of the two young men to their sisters and later their nieces and nephews.

“It was something we never talked about as a family,” said Norman James Lager of St. Peter.

Lager is Jane Beattie’s grandson. He knew he’d been named after his uncle and rarely thought much about his namesake. That was true even after he’d begun looking into his family genealogy 15 years ago.

A Christmas gift from his children in 2007 changed that. The gift was a copy of “Band of Brothers”, the HBO miniseries based on the true story of the service and sacrifice of a group of soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

The soldiers of Easy Company parachuted behind enemy lines during the invasion at Normandy, fought in Operation Market Garden — the failed Allied offensive in Holland, endured the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, liberated a Nazi concentration camp in Bavaria and captured Hitler’s mountain-top retreat at Berchtesgaden.

“I was pretty moved by it, as others were after watching it,” Lager said.

And it left him unsatisfied with the scant information about the sacrifice his uncles had made.

“My goal basically was to find out more about both my uncles’ deaths. How they died.”

There was only one sibling of David and Norman Beattie still alive — 90-year-old Thelma Ziegler. He e-mailed her, and she e-mailed back what she knew, including that Norman had been part of the 121st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

Obtaining military records and searching on the Internet, he learned that David was buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and connected with a man who had served in the 121st with Norman. The man, living in Ottumwa, Iowa, had been with the unit from the beginning and Norman had been a replacement.

The man didn’t know Norman, and he explained to Lager that it probably wasn’t by chance. The inexperienced replacements often didn’t last long in combat, and it was emotionally easier for the veterans if they didn’t get friendly with the fill-ins.

“The original unit members did their best to not get to know the new guys,” Lager said, “because they’d probably get killed.”

But the Iowa man told about the 121st’s service — how they would seek out enemy positions and draw fire to determine the enemy’s strength, then provide the information to armored units. He told about the drive into Germany, the viciously cold winter of 1944-45, the Battle of the Bulge.

Lager also learned about Norman Beattie’s death. He was hit in the chest and abdomen with three rounds from a sniper’s rifle on March 31, 1945, east of Frankfurt. He hung on for 12 days before dying.

Then in February came the e-mail from the Netherlands to Lager’s computer in St. Peter. The English wasn’t perfect, but the message was clear.

“Dear sir/Madam,

“I am interested in WW 2 and have adopted an American Grave in Margraten Holland. Now that I have adopted this private, I would like to know more about this person. A small part of this man’s history I have recently received from the Department of the Army. All information about this private is used for onderstanding (sic) who this person was. It concerns the following private: Name: Norman J. Beattie.”

“... All information is very welcome. I hope you can help me gathering this information.

“Yours sincerely,

“Jos Jacobs.”

Lager was skeptical.

“I thought, ‘Who is this person and how the hell did he get my e-mail address?’” he said. “I was kind of shocked. I didn’t believe it at first.”

Lager wrote back and was soon convinced Jacobs was not only legitimate, he had a deep appreciation for what Beattie and other American soldiers had done for the people of Holland. He just wanted to know more about the man behind the name on the white stone cross.

That was something Norman James Lager could understand. For more than a year, he’d been trying to learn more about the man behind the name that had been passed on to him at birth.

Lager shared what he knew, and Jacobs told about the cemetery.

“Three times a year I visit his grave,” Jacobs wrote. “For Christmas, with Memorial Day and his birthday. Then I put flowers on his grave.”

He recommended that Lager visit the cemetery Web site at

It turned out that the American Cemetery in Margraten — one of more than 20 in Europe but the only one in the Netherlands — had 8,301 graves and each had been adopted by a local citizen. The idea is simple: the graves need visits from local citizens because the soldiers’ American survivors are so far away.

Lager sent Jacobs a portrait of his uncles in their Army uniforms and all the information he had gathered.

“With much joy I received you package,” Jacobs responded. “A big thank you for the beautiful photos. Now I see one of the men who I can thanks the freedom and who I have adopted. I will give the photos a beautiful place at home.”

Along with his gratitude, Jacobs provided pictures of Norman Beattie’s grave and the Memorial Day ceremonies from the previous year. He promised to take even more at the 2009 event. And he made one more pledge — to get to Normandy in the future so photos of David Beattie’s grave could be forwarded to his survivors, too.

Lager connected Jacobs with Thelma Ziegler, the Beatties only remaining sibling, and he wrote to her in March. He mentioned again the portraits he’d received from Lager, of what it meant to be able to put a face to the person buried at Margraten.

“Unbelievable that this young man had to die so early,” Jacobs wrote. “His life was not even began. But this young men we thank our freedom and this honor I.”

And Lager finds it incredible that the Dutch, more than six decades later, still are striving to express the respect they feel for what Americans did for their country.

“The biggest part of the story for me is how, after 60 or 65 years, the country of the Netherlands and its people still appreciate and are dedicated to what our country did over there,” Lager said. “I just think that’s amazing.”

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