Having twins can be a wonderful thing. They sometimes are identical and sometimes not. They are extremely close, and some even invent their own language only they can understand.
The Pieper twins served in World War II together and died together, but only Louie had a proper burial at Normandy. Henry was lost, or so the family thought, until a fateful day in November, when they discovered the fate of their missing brother.
Henry and Louie Pieper from Creston, Nebraska, came into the world in 1925 in South Dakota. The family moved to Nebraska eight years later, where the boys grew up and graduated high school.
Although they were slightly under the required eighteen years of age, they enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1943. After finishing boot camp and recruit radio training at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, they were both assigned to the radio room of the United States Naval Ship LST-523, a tank carrier first launched in December of 1943. The ship had a crew complement of thirteen officers and one hundred and four enlisted men.
Aboard the shiny new ship, the Pieper brothers found themselves on the way to Normandy to participate in D-Day. On June 19, 1944, the ship struck a mine off the Utah beachhead at Normandy. According to Navy Commanding Officer of LST 523, H. H. Cross, “At 13:15, a terrific mine explosion broke the ship into two pieces just forward of the superstructure.
The stern stopped dead in the water and immediately began to settle. The bow continued to make headway for approximately six hundred yards.” According to survivor, Cpl. J.E. Tarwater, the ship was transporting ammunition for the invasion, which added to the damage.
The brothers were killed in the explosion. As per usual military tradition, two Navy officers made their way to Creston to inform the family. The twins’ sister, Mary Ann Pieper Lawrence, recalls the day she was out babysitting and when she returned her mother gave her the bad news.
The Navy had recovered the body of Louie, and he was laid to rest at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. Henry’s body, however, had not been found and was assumed to be lost in the cold waters of the English Channel. A few years later, a cenotaph was erected in the town cemetery as a memorial to the twins and everyone went on with their lives.
Unknown to the family, the LST-523 was recovered by a salvage team in 1961. The initial dive revealed human remains within the bow and stern areas. Human remains were found in the radio room; the area to which the twins were assigned. All of the remains were given to the American Consulate. Those which were unidentified were buried in Neuville, Belgium, at the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial as unknowns in 1965.
In 2015, a file of an unknown burial at Neuville came up for examination at the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a government agency dedicated to the recovery and identification of MIA and POW remains around the world. Researchers believed they could use modern technology to identify the bones and decided to exhume the remains for testing. The dental records of Henry Pieper matched the teeth of the deceased.
When Mary Ann and her family were notified in November, they were very surprised and happy at the news. One of her immediate thoughts was that Henry and Louie were born together, grew up together and died together. They should rest next to each other in France.
Henry’s remains are stored at the lab for the time being until the Navy meets with Mary Ann and her daughter to discuss the matter of burial. Soon the twins will be together again after so many years.