SAXON, Wis. — Arnold Kero, of Saxon, was 7 years old in September of 1944 when he arrived home from school to hear the worst news any kid could imagine.
His father, Emil, was plowing a clearing that has since grown over with trees at the Kero homestead on Niemi Road, near the Saxon Flowage.
Emil Kero got down off the tractor and told Arnie his older brother, William, 23, was one of 48 American soldiers who had been killed while fighting the Germans over control of bridges in Holland.
The famed battle eventually led to a movie, called “A Bridge Too Far,” referring to a British lieutenant-commander who is said to have commented, “I think we may be going a bridge too far.”
A boatload of American soldiers had been wiped out in battle, including the young paratrooper from Saxon. He was one of six Saxon residents killed in a war that seems a million years away to many, but fresh in the memories of the Kero family.
The attack was the Allies’ attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges in the German-occupied Netherlands, including one at Arnhem, with a main objective of outflanking German defenses.
There were seven kids in the Kero family and their mother, Senja, had died in a car accident when Arnie, the youngest, was only 7 months old. The children, in order of their ages, from the oldest, were William, Eleanore (Viviano), Helen (Trojahn), Robert, Norma (Peterson), Reynold and Arnie.
In addition to Arnie, Reynold and Helen are still living.
Fast forward nearly 70 years and William Kero is being remembered by a grateful nation — not the United States, but the Netherlands.
A 1,825-meter long, 6,000-ton steel bridge over the Waal River will be dedicated to the soldiers later this year. It will be called The Crossing and the 48 names will be placed at various locations along the bridge.
A newspaper in Nijmegen, Netherlands, De Gelderlander, is cooperating with the mayor of that city in honoring those Americans.
Reporters Dorine Steenbergen and Anja Adriaans, along with photographer Mariska Hofman, visited Arnie Kero, his wife, Sue, and many family members Friday, including Helen Trojahn and her husband, John, of Mesa, Ariz.
The Dutch reporters are working on an ambitious international story honoring all 48 of the American war heroes, visiting their families all over the U.S.
The mayor of Nijmegen, a city that’s 2,008 years old, sent along a video with the reporters in appreciation of what William Kero sacrificed. The mayor said the bridge will be a “lasting tribute to the brave souls.”
The Kero family members watched the video and viewed scrapbooks about William at the Kero homestead. Arnie and Sue have retired there after he spent 32 years with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, most of that time as a conservation officer in the Upper Peninsula.
‘A war hero’
The Ironwood Daily Globe of Oct. 23, 1944, carried a story on William Kero’s death, proclaiming him a “war hero” in a bold headline.
It noted Kero had served with the 82nd Airborne Division’s Company C, 307th Engineer Battalion. He also served his country in North Africa, Sicily, and returned to Africa before participating in the invasion of Italy, where he went missing for 13 days.
He also fought in England and finally in Holland.
The newspaper account noted he not only was awarded a Purple Heart after his death, but also an award from the government of the Netherlands.
More to the story
There was much more to the story than was included in the newspaper article, however.
Arnie Kero said his brother was dating Florence (Flossie) Ansami (Auger) at the time of his death.
“I remember how she cried when she received the bad news,” he said.
In fact, William Kero had begun writing a letter to his sweetheart just days before his death, but he never finished it.
He started the letter on Sept. 12, 1944, and mentioned the Glenn Miller band had played “the other night, but I didn’t get to go.”
He referred to his cousin, Johnny, who was serving in France.
“I’m getting ready for football,” William Kero wrote, although he noted the foreign version of the game was very different than American football.
That’s about as far as he got in the letter. He died on Sept. 20, 1944.
William Kero was buried in the Netherlands, but his remains were later transferred for burial in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Florence Ansami married Kenny Auger and they moved to Mullan, Idaho, where Kenny mined. He is deceased, but Florence and her family still live in Mullan.
William Kero was not forgotten by his hometown.
Saxon’s Mercier-Kero American Legion Post 371 is named in his honor.