German soldier rescues dollar bill donated by captured U.S. paratrooper on D-Day

In the early hours of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), US and British Army paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines to help block approaches to bridgeheads and secure the town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

Thomas Ivie Murphy’s parachute, 26, was one of thousands that dot the French horizon during that fateful moment in history.

“My uncle, Herbert Braune, was a Lance Corporal in the German Army and in France on D-Day,” Frank Voertmann said. “It was just before dusk when the sky filled with parachutes descending on my uncle’s position behind the lines in a staging area for the German soldiers.

Voertmann, who grew up outside of St. Louis, noted that his mother and one of his brothers immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, settling in Missouri. Their brother (Voertmann’s uncle) remained in Germany and was drafted into the German army during World War II, over 30 years old.

“One of the (American) paratroopers started shooting at my uncle as he was coming down to earth,” Voertmann continued. “The parachute caught on a tree branch and the soldier dropped his rifle and hung helplessly on the tree. It was Thomas Murphy, from North Carolina, whom I later discovered.

Years later, his uncle told him that at the time of the invasion, he and his fellow German soldiers had been warned to avoid taking Allied prisoners, as manpower was needed in combat. Ignoring these orders, Lance Cpl. Braune captured Murphy and crouched down for the night as they listened as a firefight erupted around them.

Voertmann said his uncle’s compassion and decision not to kill the parachutist was likely due to the fact that he had family living in the United States. Plus, being 34 at the time, he may have had a less combative temper than many of the younger soldiers he served with.

“During the night, Thomas was so grateful that my uncle didn’t shoot him that he gave him a dollar bill with his name and other information on it,” Voertmann said. “The next morning the Germans were still in command of the area, so my uncle brought Thomas back to the command post to hand him over as a prisoner. “

As Germany began to fold under the Allied advance, Lance Cpl. Braune then surrendered to American forces and was sent to a prisoner of war camp in England. He was released from detention in July 1947, returning to his home in Jena, Germany, and reuniting with his wife, the former Mary Ehmer. However, he continued to wonder if the American paratrooper who gave him the dollar had survived the war.

Voertmann noted: “The city he lived in was in the former East Germany, and my uncle was eventually employed as an optical polisher at the Carl-Zeiss-Jena factory after the war. He was able to come and stay with us here in Missouri for three months in 1977, and I got to know him quite well during that time.

“Then I had the opportunity to stay with him in East Germany for about three weeks in 1983.”

During these visits, Braune asked his nephew if he could help him determine Murphy’s status. In the days leading up to the internet, Voertmann discovered that he lacked the research and cross-reference capabilities to be successful in such an endeavor.

“I kept trying to find it, but I couldn’t get anywhere until the internet came up,” Voertmann said. “Sadly, my uncle passed away in 1999 and never knew what happened to the American soldier.”

As the internet became an increasingly pervasive reality, Voertmann continued to research Murphy’s whereabouts. Through archive sites, he found information revealing that the former soldier had trained in places such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was discharged from the United States military on October 29, 1945.

“My research indicated that he served as a farm laborer in North Carolina before the war,” Voertmann said. “Also, I found out that he was later employed in a furniture factory and was only 45 years old when he died of cancer in 1963.”

Through her persistence, Voertmann located the contact details of the deceased soldier’s daughter, reaching out to share with her the story of the dollar and her wartime uncle’s brief acquaintance with her father.

“She wasn’t at all familiar with her father’s war story, so it was nice to be able to share some of it with her,” he said.

Voertmann wishes his uncle had lived long enough to learn of the plight of the American soldier whose life he preserved in a time of tension. Despite the death of his uncle, he believes he fulfilled a pledge made years ago, closing a chapter in the story that began in the dark skies of France during World War II.

“It’s really an interesting story about my uncle and the dollar bill he was given, but I think especially of Private Murphy and all those young American soldiers who parachuted into France ready to do heroic things to save money. end of the war, ”he said. noted.

“This dollar bill reflects a special moment of humanity in the war and stays with my cousin in Germany. For me, it was a pleasure to have been able to fulfill my uncle’s wishes and to find out what happened to Private Murphy after the war.

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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