Gigi Hickley, cousin of Brightmore Resident, Carol Doniere, and her husband, Bill Hickley, joined Brightmore on Saturday to share a very rare and special piece of WWII history and the story behind it. The story began in 1940, in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, when Gigi’s mother married Morris “Pete” Henrickson. In 1942, Pete enlisted into the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and died in that war. In May of 2013, Gigi and Bill were cleaning out Gigi’s mother’s home after she passed away. Gigi was in the attic and found an Army canister and what she found inside soon became a piece of history for many other families, too.
She found a12-foot long and 3- feet wide Nazi flag that had been pulled down and then signed by 84 of Pete’s fellow service men in his unit. Gigi immediately looked for Pete’s name on the flag, but it was not there; that is how she came to believe that the flag was sent to her mother by the men in Pete’s unit as a tribute to him. The Nazi flag was very valuable, a “spoils of war,” and it meant a lot to send it to a family as a sympathy card. Sixty-eight years this flag sat in a canister without light in the attic. Gigi and Bill began to share this piece of history in different places for Memorial Day Services and on Veteran’s Day.
About a year ago, because Gigi was very interested in genealogy, she decided to start looking for the men who signed the flag to get more information. She wanted to find at least one, but did not have any luck by looking up the names; she only found death certificates. Her next step was to start looking for families because the obituaries led her to surviving family members. Gigi chose first to look for the family of the Commanding Officer, Lt. Charles E. Wise. She found his son by writing a letter to him (after much research) and he contacted her soon after and sent her a picture of the whole unit that was taken in 1944, with a roster of names that went with the photo. Pete was in the photograph. Gigi then sent out 25-30 more letters to other family members. Many of the families were ecstatic to get her letter with a picture of the flag since their family member never spoke of the war. It was now a piece of their history too that had been hidden for nearly 70 years.
Gigi and Bill will be traveling to the WWII Museum in New Orleans to get advice on what to do with the flag and to find an appropriate home for it because “These men were truly the best of our generation.”