- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

MARSHFIELD, Wis. (AP) - A Dutch man has succeeded in his quest to find family members of a central Wisconsin World War II soldier buried in the Netherlands.

For the last decade, Jo Winkens, a 54-year-old customs officer, has cared for the burial site of Pfc. Wayne Clark, who was killed in action in Germany during the last weeks of the war. Clark, who was 26, was buried with 8,300 other Americans at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, near Winkens’ home in Vaals.

Winkens called the News-Herald Media (https://mnhne.ws/1QpbTXz ) office on May 26, spurred on by a Memorial Day celebration at Netherlands American Cemetery the day before. Winkens’ idea was that a story in the newspaper would spur public interest and help find living relatives of Clark.

He was right.

On Tuesday morning, Winkens received an email from Sydney Wayne Clark of Ashdown, Arkansas, about 150 miles southwest of Little Rock.

“Thank you for caring enough to (take) care and visiting Dad’s grave,” Sydney Clark wrote. “My sister has visited The Netherlands and Dad’s grave. I have not, but talked to her about visiting. In fact, we talked about (it) a few weeks ago.”

Winkens said he intends to follow up with Sydney Clark.

Sydney Clark’s sister, Leah Jeanne Woods, 72, of Lehigh Acres, Florida, also called Daily Herald Media.

“I’m so excited (at the prospect of connecting with Winkens),” Woods said. “I’ve been over there a couple of times, and I knew someone was taking care of Dad’s grave. I asked someone at the cemetery, but he didn’t know.”

Woods was 2 years old when word reached her mother that her father was killed in Germany. “I was so little, I don’t remember my father. I have just some vague memories,” Woods said. “I remember a Christmas in a trailer house, and I got Boston baked beans. Things like that.”

Wayne Clark was born in Mosinee, attended Waupaca High School and was a truck driver in Clintonville before being inducted in the Army in May 1944, according to a front-page Wausau Daily Record-Herald story about his death that ran on April 28, 1945.

That same day, the Wausau newspaper ran a story under the headline, “Nazi Surrender Offer to America, Britain Reported.”

Wayne Clark left for Europe on Dec. 26, 1944. He fought in the 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division, Third Army, which was led by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton. The 89th Division was known as the “Rolling W” and troops from that division liberated Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the infamous Buchenwald death camp, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was the first Nazi death camp freed by U.S. soldiers, and it happened on April 4, 1945.

Five days later, April 9, Wayne Clark was killed, one of 325 men from the 89th Division who lost their lives in the war.

Woods said she does not know the precise circumstances of her father’s death. She believes he was a “runner,” she said, a soldier who moved ahead of larger units to scan for snipers, and that he was shot.

Much later, Woods said she received an offer to bring her father’s body home to the United States for reburial. “But I said, ‘No, he’s been there for so many years.’”

Winkens said he’s one of many Dutch volunteers who cares for the American graves at Margraten. “We owe our freedom today to them,” he said.

Wayne Clark married Beatrice McCabe in 1940 in Shawano, and the couple had four children, David, Sydney, Leah Jeanne and Arletta Rae. David is deceased, Wood said. Her younger sister, Arletta, is married, goes by the name Cookie Burton and lives in Phoenix.

Life for Wayne Clark’s children was not easy after the loss of their father.

Beatrice gave up the care of the four children after Wayne Clark died, Wood said. David went to live with Beatrice’s parents; the younger three lived with Wayne Clark’s sister, Delia Green, and her husband, Lawrence Green. That family lived on a farm near the Portage-Waupaca county line.

“Mother was out of my life,” Wood said. “She was my mom in name only. … I know it was very difficult for her.”

Wood said her mother went on to remarry many times, “five times, I think.” Wood connected with Beatrice later in life, and is close to the daughters Beatrice had after Wayne Clark’s death. “They are sisters to me, not half-sisters,” Wood said.

Beatrice died years ago and is buried in Fond du Lac, Wood said.

The remaining three siblings have dealt with their loss as best they can, she said.

“Being a child, you have this hurt,” Wood said. “There are a lot of things you think about, and wonder.”


Information from: News-Herald Media, https://www.marshfieldnewsherald.com

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