A treasured children’s book, packed in an Marine’s kit bag as he headed off from his home in small town Emmaus Pennsylvania, to fight in the Pacific Theatre in World War II somehow found its way to a used book store in Kona, Hawaii. How Hans Brinker ended up back in Pennsylvania with the war hero’s son is much less of a mystery.
Holidaying in Kona, weirdly home to a giant used book store (Kona Bay Used Books), browsing the packed shelves for vintage children’s books to add to my collection I find an immeasurably valuable treasure. I spotted this very nice edition of Hans Brinker and became intrigued with an inscription inside the book that said: ‘This is my book, Norman Schantzenbach, December 25, 1933’ and on the facing page, a sticker commemorating the jubilee of a small town in Pennsylvania, Emmaus. Tucked between the pages was a pressed leaf.
Once home in Canada, with the unusual last name, a date and the name of the town, an internet search lead me to the conclusion that the book belonged to a Marine killed in action in January 1944 at a battle at Cape Gloucester, New Britain in the Pacific.
The Battle of Cape Gloucester was a battle in the Pacific theater of World War II between Japanese and Allied forces which took place on the island of New Britain, Territory of New Guinea, between late December 1943 and April 1944.
The battle was a major part of Operation Cartwheel, the main Allied strategy in the South West Pacific Area and Pacific Ocean Areas during 1943–44, and was the second World War II landing of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, after Guadalcanal.
Yet more internet sleuthing lead me to connect with a relative of the Silver Star hero in Pennsylvania via a Facebook message that languished for some weeks before being discovered in the non-friend zone.
“Norman, Sr. would have been about 10 years old when he wrote his name in the book,” says Bonnie Schantzenbach, whose husband was a cousin of Norman’s. “It must have been a favorite from his childhood and he took it along to have a piece of home with him. Touching that he brought a leaf from Pennsylvania tucked in the pages. His only son, who was only three years old when he was killed, is still alive and lives a few miles from us.” Cool message to receive.
I mailed my new collectable from Kona to Bonnie in Pennsylvania, who coincidentally was working on a family tree she was planning to surprise Norman Schantzenbach Jr. with.
“I showed Norman Jr. the family tree on my laptop and then pulled out the book,” says Bonnie. “It took him awhile before he really realized that this was his dad’s book. He laid it down and then picked it up saying, “This is incredible”. He doesn’t have much of anything of his dad’s except for the Silver Star and he was moved beyond words.”
Here is the Silver Star reference I found in my research: Schantzenbach, Norman R. For Gallantry in Action on January 3 – 9, 1944 at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.
Awarded for actions during the World War II
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Sergeant Norman R. Schantzenbach (MCSN: 359043), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while with the FIRST Marine Division during combat with enemy Japanese forces on Cape Gloucester, New Britain Island, from 8 to 9 January 1944. Courageously leading his squad across a stream while subjected to withering hostile machine-gun fire, Sergeant Schantzenbach succeeded in reaching an advantageous point for firing upon enemy gun emplacements. By his cool and aggressive leadership throughout the ensuing violent engagement, his squad was able to force desperately fighting hostile units to abandon their positions. Later while fearlessly defending a ridge against a night counterattack, he was fatally injured. Sergeant Schantzenbach’s heroic initiative and selfless devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
General Orders: Commander 7th Fleet: Serial 0395
Action Date: January 3 – 9, 1944
Service: Marine Corps
Division: 1st Marine Division
Norman Jr. called me the day Bonnie brought him the book and could hardly get the words out he was so full of emotion. “Thanks, you have no idea in the world how much this means to me. No idea at all.”