Ogden Soldier Honored By German Town 75 Years After WWII
SOUTH OGDEN – Lieutenant Richard Spencer Burrows was the first American to die on German soil during WWII and now people from the town where he died are reaching out to his family to say “sorry” and “thank you.”
Pat Larsen last saw her father as he was sent off to war when she was only nine years old, but she still has very fond memories of him.
“He was very kind,” Larsen said. “And I know he loved my mother very much.”
Larsen said her father made the decision to enlist at 32 years old after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
“He didn’t have to, because he was a chemical inspector at the old arsenal in Davis County,” Larsen said.
Burrows was injured in France and earned his first Purple Heart, before heading back to the battlefield. As First Lieutenant of an army reconnaissance unit, Larsen said he was put in the line of fire often.
He earned a Silver Star with valor, but he was killed as his unit crossed into the German town of Roetgen.
“He was trying to figure out how to get over the last bridge, and he got out of his tank,” Larsen said, explaining that he was killed in the moments soon after that. Her family didn’t learn of his death until six weeks later. Meantime she said, there was a celebration in the news over the first German town being captured since the time of Napoleon.
“It was so surreal. I was just nine years old, and I couldn’t imagine that it really happened,” Larsen said. “As far as we can tell, my dad was actually the first soldier to cross over the border into Germany.”
Burrows’s story is one that was passed down his family for three generations. George Vogel, a great-nephew, said he started digging deeper into Burrows history out of personal interest. He reached out to a historical society in the town of Roetgen.
“When they found out who I was talking about, Spencer Burrows, they told me that they had been trying to contact the Burrows family,” Vogel said, adding it was more than just a family story. “They had the idea of building a monument to him…(they) wanted to celebrate his liberating Belgium and then this German village.”
Now, several of Burrows’s descendants will travel to Roetgen for the 75th anniversary of his crossing into Germany. A German soldier, who died in the conflict will be honored too, with both names being engraved on a monument. Tawna Halbert recently traveled to the town and met with members of the historical society after learning of their interest in her great, great grandfather.
“One of them shook my hand and started crying, and said, ‘I’m so sorry for what my people did to your family,'” Halbert said. “All of that need for forgiveness and moving forward, I saw that all that day on the bridge.”
By seeing unity where there was once war and deep divisions, Halbert said she regained a personal sense of hope.
“What was once walls of barbed wire, and death, and violence, are now people from both sides, 75 years later, grandchildren are building bridges where there once were walls,” Halbert explained. “It kind of makes me think that maybe this isn’t the end for our country. Sometimes I lose hope, and I see what’s happening.”
Larsen said learning of the wide interest in her father has meant a lot.
“That was a real source of comfort to me,” she said.