World War II Sailor Buried Next to Brother at Normandy American Cemetery on 74th Anniversary of his Death

Family members of World War II Radioman 2nd Class Julius Pieper gathered at Normandy American Cemetery in France today, 74 years after his death, to attend his burial. Buried next to his twin brother Radioman 2nd Class Ludwig Pieper, Julius’ journey to his final resting place took more than seven decades. While a long time coming, the American government never gave up the possibility that Julius could rest in a known grave. And today, that reality came true when Julius was buried with full military honors at Normandy American Cemetery.

On June 19, 1944 Landing Ship Tank (LST)-523 struck an underwater mine off the coast of Normandy, France and sank. Of the 145 crew on board, 117 died to include Julius and Ludwig. While the remains of Ludwig were recovered and identified not long after the sinking, the same was not true of Julius. He was officially considered missing in action.

Family back in the United States had to decide where they wanted Ludwig to be buried. They chose burial in a permanent, overseas American military cemetery. While Ludwig rested under a known grave at Normandy American Cemetery, the name of Julius was inscribed on the Walls of the Missing, denoting his remains had not been recovered.

In the early 1960s a crew recovered remains from LST-523. Unable to be identified at the time, these remains were buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium under an Unknown headstone. After World War II, the remains of more than 6,000 Americans could not be identified and were buried within America’s overseas cemeteries. For decades, thousands of Unknown remains rested within the pristine grounds of American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC) cemeteries, receiving the same amount of respect and reverence as those buried under known headstones.

But as science and technology evolved, making new and better analysis techniques available every passing year, the Department of Defense (DoD) began to increase its effort to identify Unknown Americans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And in 2015 DoD issued a memo, which included policy on the disinterment of Unknowns buried within ABMC World War II cemeteries.

By coincidence, that same year a high school student in Ainsworth, Nebraska began researching the Pieper twins as part of a World War II research project managed by National History Day. The student, Vanessa Taylor, gathered information from the National Archives, requested records from the Defense POW/MIA Account Agency (DPAA) and interviewed surviving family members. During the research process, DPAA discovered a possible link between the remains recovered in 1961 and Julius. After digging further, DPAA found a preponderance of evidence that led to the exhumation of the Unknown remains in 2016 believed to be Julius. DPAA used laboratory analysis, including dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence to make an identification in 2017.   

Members of the Pieper family then had to make the same decision the family made in the 1940s—should Julius be buried back in the United States or overseas? Because Ludwig rested in Normandy American Cemetery, the family chose to have Julius buried next to his twin brother. “I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of the cemetery,” said Dean Lawrence, nephew of Julius and Ludwig. “And I’m comfortable in knowing my uncles are here, where other people can learn their stories.”

Members of the Pieper family, to include Susan Lawrence, Dean, Frederick Pieper, Katherine Pieper, Louis Pieper, and Linda Suitor, traveled from the United States to attend his burial as well as be present for the placement of a bronze rosette next to Julius’ name on the Walls of the Missing. The rosette indicates that Julius now rests in a known grave.

Burials within ABMC’s World War II cemeteries are rare today. The cemeteries are considered closed, except for those remains recently recovered and identified, such as the case with Julius. But when a burial does occur, ABMC works with the family to ensure their needs are met. The remains of Ludwig had rested within the midst of a long row of burials at the cemetery. To accommodate the request of the family, the remains of Ludwig were moved in 2018 so that Julius could rest next to him, bringing the brothers together again, 74 years after they last spoke on LST-523.