OLNEY, Ill. — An act of kindness by an American soldier
during World War II was little more than a faded memory for decades. Until
The heartwarming story of an Illinois farmer who may have
saved the life of a Dutch boy in 1944 has been put into a book to be shared with
others, thanks to a reintroduction of Olney native Ron Scherer to a
Scherer, who recently retired from a career in agricultural
communications, now lives in Columbia. On a visit to his hometown in 2010 to
enjoy an Independence Day celebration, he bumped into Earl, a third cousin who,
though related, was little more than an acquaintance in Scherer’s younger
One thing led to another, and Scherer became aware of Earl’s
wartime experiences and began work on one of the items on his “bucket list.”
He had done his share of writing during his long career
working for ag companies such as DeKalb and for several ag public relations
companies. But he wanted to go beyond that in his retirement.
“I wanted to write something meaningful,” Scherer said. “I
started making a list of topics of possible subjects, and none of them included
a World War II veteran.”
Earl, who will turn 97 in August, was in an ordnance
division supporting troops involved in the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of
Normandy. He made his way from Omaha beach across Europe all the way to Germany
until the Nazi government surrendered the following spring.
What happened while his company was encamped in Holland is
the basis for the book, The Soldier from
Illinois: One Man’s Courage and Compassion .
The Dutch suffered greatly under German rule to the point of
being deprived of food supplies, and many starved to death. Others subsided by
eating tulip bulbs, grass and bark.
During the company encampment near the town of Maastricht, a
Dutch boy named Bert showed up, begging for food, and Earl gave him some of his
rations, which the boy took home and shared with his family.
“The little boy came back every day until Earl’s company
moved out, which was a week,” Scherer said. “When the company left, the boy gave
Earl a black-and-white photograph of himself. He had stenciled on the back his
name and his hometown, Maastritch, in Dutch.
“Earl took the picture with him and figured he’d never see
the boy again in his life. When he got back to Olney, he put it back into his
box of memorabilia.”
Decades later, when Earl was vacationing in Florida, he met
a Canadian couple originally from the Netherlands. The story of the little boy
came up, and the couple asked him to send them a copy of the picture, which then
was sent to a relative in Holland.
That relative tenaciously searched until he found the boy,
now an adult. It soon was arranged for him to contact Earl, and the two reunited
in 1997, when Earl returned to Holland for a ceremony honoring the Allied
“They renewed their acquaintance and became good friends,”
Scherer said. “Bert claimed that Earl saved his life.”
Earl returned in 1998 and the following year, where he
watched the parade and visited cemeteries where American soldiers are buried.
Bert died in 2002, but the camaraderie between the two men lives on in Scherer’s
While Earl’s encounter with Bert is the backdrop for the
story, the book also provides a dose of history.
“I did include a lot of things about the various battles and
did a lot of research. It does cover Earl’s path from California to just outside
of Berlin,” Scherer said.
“We don’t claim to make Earl a hero. He wasn’t in the
(D-Day) battle. But he was close enough to the Battle of the Bulge. They were
strafed, and artillery shells were dropped on them.”
Scherer, often accompanied by Earl, sometimes speaks to
groups about the story. The paperback book is self-published and sold in select
stores. It also is available online on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble.