Saturday, March 9, 2013


In 1923 and 1924, Duane was a high school student and basketball star at Independence High School in Independence, Kansas. He played the bassoon and he showed off a wonderful smile. Twenty years later, he would be in one of the most difficult battles of WWII - the Battle of the Bulge. He was a member of the 424 INFANTRY REGIMENT.

I am told that Duane was one of 150 captured prisoners, most of whom were shot dead by SS Soldiers. After that, the American military ordered that all SS Officers were to be shot on site.

Duane was buried at Henri Chapelle cemetery in Belgium. There is a memorial plaque in the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Independence, Kansas where his grandparents Benjamin Franklin Sr and Margaret (McKinlay) McKay were buried.

Sixty-nine years later, a man in Germany attempts to return Duane McKay's knapsack with mess kit to the McKay family in the U.S.


Explains history of how the Shearer family's 1821 letter from PA to Germany was presented to American military, which saved their village of Wormrath.

This is the e-mail thread (I removed the German language emails and left in the Google translations) and photos:


Thank you for replying to my inquiry. It appears that you are related to the McKay family that I am searching for. My relative in Germany emailed me last week and said that while cleaning out the attic of his recently deceased mother (she was 95), he found a WWII Army backpack and messkit. The backpack is clearly labeled as the property of Duane McKay. Heinrich does not know how it got there because this mother never spoke of it. We are from the Rhineland region (he actually living there, but that is my ancestoral home). I believe Duane was mortally wounded early in the Ardennes offensive, which is located about 30 miles west of Kirchberg/Womrath. Heinrich said that his uncles were fighting at the eastern Russian front and not at the Western front. He and I did some research and were able to determine Duane came from Independence KS. As a subscriber to, I was able to find Duane in the 1930 and 1940 census as well as his yearbook information and photo.

Attached are two pictures of the backpack and messkit. I believe Heinrich feels an obligation to repatriate the items with the family. Even though there was unimagineable horror and tremendous hate generated by the war, there were moments of humanity. Apparently, as the story goes, at the end of WWII as the Allies were advancing to Berlin, a group of released Lithuanian prisoners' of war wanted to torch the village of Womrath. (The village was largely spared damage through the war.) The villagers produced a letter written in 1821 by my ancestor from his home (and my current home) in Reading, PA to his family in Womrath and presented it to an American officer. It appears the American officer was convinced by or took pity on the villagers and prevented the Lithuanians from burning the village. He apparently stationed guards around the village to protect it. So you see why my relative has kind feelings for the American service men and would like to give the backpack and messkit to the McKay family.

I was not correct in the info on this brother Donald Vernon. I mistook a Vernon McKay in Leavenworth KS, who had a son Gary, for Donald Vernon. I am glad you are the correct lineage. I had hoped to get in contact with Donald Vernon's relatives, since they are more closely related to Duane. If you have any way of locating Kathleen's or Margaret's family that would be great, but I will pass this info on to Heinrich.

I'm sure that knowing the items are being returned to any proper relative will please him.

Thank you for all your time. Best Regards,

Jeff Shearer

Hello Cousette,

I got your address from Jeffand I will write you the same. I write with a simple German, so the machine can translate it well. My wife and mysons are not in the moment as much time to write inEnglish. Jeff told you the other story with the American soldiers in Womrath? The ancestors are from Jeff early as 1764 and 1769 emigrated from Womrath out to Reading. From 1820 there is a wonderful letter, which the emigrant John Christopher Scherer (Shearer) wrote.Years ago I set up this great genealogy. After my time as a teacher I have now dedicated to the genealogy and migration. In addition to the Scherer many other families have emigrated, you might say, in all parts of the world. A Johann Michael Imboden emigrated after 1882 Enon Valley. Last year, his descendants were with me in Womrath. It was verysentimental. I would love toget in touch with the family of the poor soldiers McKay. I still have not clarified exactly how the backpack of the dead Duane came 4 months later in our house. I suspect that American occupation soldiers have leftthe backpack in mid-March 1945 Womrath.

I look forward to a response and to further correspondence.

Heinrich Augustin


A second email with photos from Heinrich.

Cousette love and dear Jeff,
after I wrote to Cousette is, I remembered that
I still can not send you anything.
In autumn 2008, our youngest son for 3 months as a teacher at the
German School of New York. Unfortunately, it was not from the time
possible to travel to Pennsylvannia to our numerous
Shearer to visit relatives.
I send you now pictures of my birthplace, where the
Backpack on the memory was. That house is my 1858
Great-great uncle Jacob Schmidt emigrated to St. Peter Castle, where he died on
Zarenhof German and worked as a music teacher. Three images show
the house around 1920, 1960 and 1998. My wife and I have in
Kirchberg, 5 km from Womrath neuese 1981 built a house.
The next house is the house of my father, from the 1882
Emigrated Johann Michael Imboden after Enon Valley.
Then there's the house that Jeff might know, it is the house
the emigrant brothers Johann and Johann Christopher Nicolaius Scherer.

Hello Cousette

I saw in your blog and discovered that I sent you a week ago, the false images of my parents' house. Now when the correct images where the backpack was in the attic.

The other images: Manfred Augustin is the house of the two Shearer, relatives of Jeff and me, and then you see me with Sheri Button and her husband before the home of my father, from the Johann Michael Imboden has emigrated to Enon Valley. The air intake is our present house in Kirchberg.

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