Profiles in Sacrifice: 1st Lt. Paul Donald Meyer
When the United States entered World War II, gender roles began to shift based on the needs of a country at war. Women started working in factories, and the U.S. military began actively recruiting women to serve. 1st Lt. Paul Donald Meyer met his wife, 2nd Lt. Elaine Gardner Mitchell, who was a recruiter with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, in 1942 while both were stationed stateside. (The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was converted to the Women’s Army Corps in 1943.)
Paul, who was with the 405th Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division, enlisted not long after Pearl Harbor, and Elaine had been recruited to join the military based on a volunteer position she held. She worked in an office, but she also volunteered with the First Fighter Command Filter Group in Baltimore, an auxiliary aircraft warning service. The two fell in love, and married on Valentine’s Day 1944 in a small ceremony in New Mexico while on active duty.
Shortly after, they learned they were expecting their first child. While gender roles had started to shift, they hadn’t come that far. Elaine left the Army in June 1944 because of her pregnancy.
And just a few months later, Paul shipped overseas in the fall, and Elaine moved in with her parents in Baltimore, awaiting the arrival of their child. In less than a year, Paul and Elaine went from being newlyweds, who were both serving in the Army, to a man and wife separated by an ocean, facing the uncertain outcomes of war.
Paul’s unit crossed the Roer River in Germany in late February 1945. And days later, as the unit advanced, Paul was hit by mortar fire near Boslar, Germany, and died on February 25, 1945. His daughter Nancy was just three months old at the time of his death.
While Elaine mourned Paul’s death, his brother Henry began corresponding with her, offering words of consolation and support. What first started as a friendship, eventually evolved into a courtship, and the two married four years after Paul’s death.
Nancy always knew that Henry was not her biological father. “I was never denied any information, and every once in a while I’d ask a question here or there, but never a lot,” said Nancy. While her father had been killed in the war, Nancy experienced a different reality than many children who had lost fathers. Often, war widows with children chose not to remarry, but Nancy grew up with two sisters, a father-figure, and a clear understanding that he dad rested overseas.
At the age of eight in 1953, Nancy’s grandparents took her to Europe to visit her father’s final resting place at Netherlands American Cemetery. She remembers the wooden crosses still being in place, and she recalls the marble crosses lined up at the back of the cemetery, ready to be installed. Even though her memories of the visit are limited, Nancy’s connection with the site has evolved as she’s aged.
In more recent years, she has connected with the Dutch family that has adopted her father’s gravesite, and she joined the American World War II Orphans Network (AWON).
This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Dutch citizens will gather at the cemetery, along with Nancy, and more than 50 members of AWON, to remember and honor the sacrifices made seven decades ago in the fight to liberate Europe. “It’s [Memorial Day] a time to remember and honor people who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” said Nancy.
Established in 1923 by Congress, ABMC is a U.S. government agency charged with commemorating the service, achievements and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces where they have served overseas since 1917. ABMC administers our nation’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and federal memorials. For more information visit www.abmc.gov, or connect with us on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.