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PAPER TRAILS: Family afar yearns for GI's story

by Sean Clancy | August 9, 2020 at 8:52 a.m. | Updated August 11, 2020 at 7:04 a.m.
Sean Clancy, Paper Trails columnist

Capt. Jefferson Sherman Jr. is buried with about 10,000 other American soldiers in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in the village of Margraten.

He served with the 309th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division and was killed in action in Germany on Dec. 16, 1944.

Sherman was born July 10, 1915, in Bentonville to Rev. Jefferson and Ada Sherman and was the head football coach at Pine Bluff High School when he joined the Army in July 1941.

He was awarded a Bronze Star posthumously for "meritorious achievement in action on December 13, 1944," according to a Nov. 20, 1945, item in the Northwest Arkansas Times. A platoon of his company "had been cut off, and Sherman led the remaining three in capturing a German town and holding it against superior German forces until reinforcements arrived."

Annika de Jong, 37, teaches children with special needs and lives in Hoensbroek in the south of Holland.

At least twice a year, usually around Christmas and July 4, she and her fiance, Bart, and her two children visit Sherman's grave and leave flowers chosen by her 6-year-old daughter.

In emails, de Jong lovingly refers to Sherman as "our Captain."

"We want to keep the memory about this horrific period in mankind alive for our children," she says. "We always bring them with us to the graveyard and our oldest understands more and more about the reason why we are there and who our Captain was."

They've been looking after the fallen Arkansas soldier's grave for three years, taking over from Bart's great-aunt. His family, de Jong says, has been tending Americans' graves at the cemetery "since the beginning of Margraten," which was created in 1944 as the Army pushed into the Netherlands from Belgium and France.

Bart's grandmother contacted relatives of the soldier whose grave she was caring for, which inspired de Jong to search for Sherman's kin.

She connected with Russell P. Baker of the Arkansas Genealogical Society, who passed her query along to members of an email group that focuses on Arkansas history.

Through the group, Eugene H. Sherman Jr., who is believed to be Sherman's nephew and living in Hilton Head, S.C., was located.

"It was very exciting to receive information from friendly and grateful people from the other side of the world," de Jong says.

She sent a letter to Eugene Sherman, but there has been no reply. She's tried reaching out to a few others who may know about Captain Sherman, but so far has hit a dead end.

Still, de Jong says she and her family are "even more determined to get all the information we wanted."

If anyone has details about Sherman or his descendants, we'd be happy to send them her way.



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