"It means a lot to our family," said their niece
From working on the railroad to serving in the U.S. Navy, twin brothers Julius “Henry” and Ludwig “Louie” Pieper experienced life together — including the very end, according to multiple reports.
The Nebraska siblings were both killed at just 19 years old in Normandy during World War II, according to the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency. Seventy-five years later, the close-knit brothers are buried next to each other at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, and the brothers’ first-ever D-Day anniversary together.
“I don’t even know how to express it in words that they’re finally side by side,” their niece Susan Lawrence told USA Today. “It means a lot to our family, it’s beyond words.”
The invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 has been described as the most critical moment in America’s efforts to help liberate Western Europe from the Axis powers during World War II.
“It’s almost like when you go there, you’re living it,” Lawrence told USA Today of the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. “You can see as many movies as you want to, but once you’re there, and it’s like, this is the beach, that they came in on, it’s just overwhelming.”
While serving as radiomen, Henry and Louie died on June 19, 1944 — 13 days after the D-Day invasion — when their ship hit an underwater German mine off Normandy’s coast and sank, according to the agency.
Louie’s remains were quickly found and buried in the French cemetery, but Henry’s body was not recovered until 1961, the agency said. After he was buried as an “unknown” soldier in a cemetery in Belgium, it would be more than 50 years before Henry’s remains would be identified.
A Nebraska high school student, Vanessa Taylor, launched a research project on the brothers in 2015, which led authorities to use dental and other DNA records to determine that the unidentified remains were Henry, according to NPR. The remains were positively identified in 2017, according to the agency and NPR.
“I just happened to notice there were two people killed who had the same exact last name,” Taylor told NPR. “So I thought it was kind of interesting and wondered if there was a connection or if it was just a coincidence.”
Henry was buried in a plot next to his brother on June 19, 2018, the 74th anniversary of their deaths.
Another niece, Linda Pieper Suitor, received the flag from Henry’s coffin at the ceremony. She said the situation has inspired her to share her uncles’ story with the world, according to NPR.
“I think I’ve found a new purpose for my life,” Suitor told the outlet. “I’m going home and I’m going to visit high schools and share this story and make sure students know about this history project. I’m going to tell them what it’s meant to me and my family.”
Lawrence recalled to NPR a letter the twins wrote to their parents before their deaths.
“Do not worry about us,” they wrote. “We are together.”