By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
GATESVILLE A secret lies in a Belgium cemetery. If Carol Verbeek can discover that secret, she'll unlock half of her identity.
Pvt. Teddy "David" Jones rests in the cemetery. The young soldier was traveling in a truck convoy during World War II to resupply troops in Aachen, Germany, when a possible enemy attack caused an accident.
When Jones died Oct. 3, 1944, he left behind a little girl who later would work for years to figure out who he was.
Verbeek, 61, began her search to discover more about her father several years ago after she met her birth mother. Verbeek was adopted when she was 9 months old and met several of her father's siblings when she met her mother.
The first stop on Verbeek's trek to discovery was the American World War II Orphans Network, an organization formed in 1991 for people who lost a parent to the war.
The organization put Verbeek in touch with a man in Belgium who found her father's grave and gave her the names of people who died the same day he did. She was able to contact three families from the four names she received.
"They seemed pleased I took time to find them," Verbeek said. "It was fortunate they had unusual names, and I started calling them. People were almost too nice when I called them."
Verbeek still isn't sure what unit her father was in and whether the infantryman volunteered or was drafted for service.
But she found children, siblings and a cousin of people who were with her father when he died. That and her membership in the orphans network have soothed her longing to know her father, the same longing she says more than 183,000 people have. That's how many people lost their dads to World War II, according to the orphans network.
"There is something missing," Verbeek said. "There is for everyone who is in the family. There is an emptiness, a hole, a feeling that something is missing."
Verbeek has known she was adopted for as long as she can remember. Her adoptive parents always supported her desire to meet her birth mother and her quest for knowledge about her birth father.
"I never felt I deserved to know as much about my natural father (as other World War II orphans) because I grew up in a pretty fantastic household," Verbeek said. "I had a dad growing up, and others didn't."
Until she met her biological aunts and uncles and the relatives of the soldiers who died with her father, the little bit of information she knew about her father was what her legal parents learned from the adoption agency.
Verbeek's father was born in Nebraska and grew up in Missouri.
"He was a farm kid from the Midwest," she said. "I suppose he did the hunting and the fishing the other kids did."
Her aunts and uncles gave her pictures of her father and a program from his funeral. She also received the American flag that was draped over his casket. She keeps the flag in a case in the front bedroom of her home in Gatesville that is decorated with her father's photographs, a lithograph of an aerial view of her father's resting place and a gold-star flag, which indicates a family member was killed in war.Verbeek continues her quest for information about her father. She hopes the orphans network's upcoming national convention will teach her more ways to find information.
The convention is scheduled for May 26-29 at the Hilton Palacio del Rio in San Antonio.
Scheduled speakers include the deputy to the commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which is located at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and processes all unidentified remains of war veterans; a representative from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis; and the director of the National Association of ex-Prisoners of War.
A memorial service at Fort Sam Houston is scheduled for Memorial Day, and the time to talk over experiences with fellow war orphans will be plentiful. That's one of the best parts, Verbeek said.
"It's more than comforting," Verbeek said. "It's kind of like meeting another part of you. You realize, Ah, gee, I'm not the only person who feels this way.' It's one of those things that's worth a try if you are a war orphan."
More information can be found at www.awon.org, the organization's Web site.
Contact Emily Baker at email@example.com