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Even though he is 92, Howard Hensleigh of Menlo Park, Calif., remembers 1944 like it was yesterday. That was the year the Army World War II veteran killed a German soldier during a gunbattle in southern France.
"The sergeant that I'd chosen to fire the first shot fired, and of course they (the German soldiers) hit the dirt. And there's firing going back and forth all the time," Hensleigh said.
Hensleigh, who was an intelligence officer and assistant platoon leader, says he knew the German soldiers were not going to give up without a fight. He says he gave them several chances to give up. But a man he later came to find out was named Georg Reick give him no other choice. Hensleigh shot and killed him during a firefight. Hensleigh said he felt it was something he had to do in order to save his men.
"When you take prisoners you get all the information off of all of them," Hensleigh said. "I hate to admit it but they don’t end up with their watches rings and anything else."
In this case, Reick was stripped of personal artifacts, such as pictures of his wife and family and his wedding photo: It was common to confiscate the goods from the dead Germans at the time. Hensleigh took them, and put his enemy's belongings in his personal scrap book.
They stayed there for 68 years until a young French writer named Jean Loup came along. Loup was interested in interviewing WWII veterans who served their country in southern France for a documentary he was working on. While researching online, Loup found Hensleigh. Loup flew to the San Francisco Peninsula to meet Hensleigh, and during their meeting, learned of his story and started to connect the dots.
Loup then contacted the company that developed pictures. But the company was no longer there.
He then sent them to the mayor of the small German town where the soldier lived.
The mayor recognized the dead soldier and put Hensleigh in touch with the soldier’s grandson whose name is also Georg Reick.
The grandson and Hensleigh now email each other back and forth. Hensleigh gave Reick's grandson information he's been longing for and Reick has pictures he thought he would never get.
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