December 18, 2017

Belgian man seeking family of Edwin Fritz

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DIEST, Belgium — A Belgian man is reaching out from across the pond to locate any family members of Edwin Fritz, a Klacking Township man who lost his life during World War II.

In hopes of better understanding Fritz’s story, Nick Lieten has been scouring the internet and reaching out to organizations like the Ogemaw County Genealogical and Historical Society to locate the family of the American soldier and Purple Heart recipient whose grave he adopted in 2013. The historical society was able to provide some information and a photo of Fritz, but has not been able to connect Lieten with the family.

Lieten said through the scattered information he has gathered he knows Fritz was born March 1, 1926, to Nicholas and Frances Fritz.

Fritz, a St. Joseph Catholic School student, worked for Chadwick Trucking before his enlisted in the Army.

Lieten’s research shows Fritz as a private first class in the 331st Infantry Regiment in the 83rd Infantry Division. Fritz was killed in action April 12, 1945, nearly a year after his enlistment date of April 21, 1944. He was 19 years old at the time of his death and was survived by his parents; three brothers, Early, Elmer and Millard; and his twin sister, Edwina Campbell.

Military records show that Fritz was likely killed in the vicinity of Derenburg when his battalion encountered very strong German resistance. The 331st had 92 soldiers injured or killed during the battle, including Fritz.

Lieten’s research into Fritz’s life and attempts to locate his family began when he adopted Fritz’s grave in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Netherlands. Lieten tends to 18 graves that he has adopted at 10 cemeteries within reasonable distance of his home. But Lieten is propelled to look beyond the simple white crosses and etched names he cares for.

“The adoption process is pretty much the same at every cemetery where an adoption program is held,” Lieten said. “This is free to do. They only expect you to visit your adoption grave at least once a year and lay flowers at the grave, but for me it’s more than that. I want to know and find out everything about the soldier whose grave (or name on the Tablets of the Missing) I have adopted…”

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the American cemetery, now one of the only major American war cemetery in the Netherlands, is home to 8,301 graves of American soldiers spread over its 65.5 acres — each adopted by primarily Dutch people who want to honor the sacrifice of their liberators, the men and women who served and gave their young lives for the freedom of the people in the region.

“That is what I am very thankful for,” he said.

Lieten said biannually there is an event at the cemetery called the Faces of Margraten, during which adopters put a picture of each soldier at their graves. Thanks to help from the historical society, Lieten will be able to place a photo of Fritz at his grave at the next event.

Lieten works in administration for the federal tax government in Belgium. Living in Diest, a northern part of Belgium in the province of Flemish Brabant, Lieten finds himself within driving distance to many of the historical battlefields in the region, which is fortunate for him, as he recently joined a group that researches soldiers buried at cemeteries in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Through adoption and research, Lieten has put a story with many of his 18 graves and has connected with the families of 10 soldiers.

“Some are very hard to research because I have so many adopted graves,” he said.

Lieten said that while many of the soldiers were killed in action, some of the graves he has adopted have a more unique story, like that of Kenneth Lebl. Lebl was in the 493rd Bomber Group and served as a navigator on a B-24 named Moby Dick. Lebl’s squadron had a mission on D-Day, but due to high cloud density the group began to return back to base without dropping their bombs.

“While flying above the (English) Channel, the plane collided with another one and the Moby Dick and the other plane both crashed into sea,” Lieten said. “The whole crew is now missing in action and are all remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery in Normandy.”

“So they all have their story and it’s fascinating learning about every single one of them,” he continued. “That’s why I now volunteer to research more soldiers at different American cemeteries. It also fascinates me how thankful the relatives are when I visit the grave of their loved one, some of them knowing that they might never make it themselves but now know there will be flowers at least once a year at the grave.”

Anyone with information on Edwin Fritz or how to contact his survivors can reach Lieten by email at nicklieten@hotmail.com or looking him up on Facebook.

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