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Kindness of stranger touches family's heart

Faith Glaman, her daughter Judy Hite, and granddaughter Jennifer Chittum, all of Polo, look over old photos. Photo by Vinde Wells
Faith Glaman, her daughter Judy Hite, and granddaughter Jennifer Chittum, all of Polo, look over old photos. Photo by Vinde Wells

The kindness of a stranger from an ocean away touched the hearts and lives of a Polo woman and her family this summer.

After a search by email, Faith Glaman was contacted late year by Louis Hensgens, a high school music teacher from Schinnen, The Netherlands.

Hensgens, 49, was seeking information about Robert Glaman, Faith's fiance who was killed in World War II when his plane was shot down over Germany.

During their email correspondence, Faith learned that Hensgens has been taking care of the graves of two World War II servicemen, one of of whom was Louis S. Prangl, a member of Robert's crew.

Because of his interest, not only in Robert, but also in other members of his B-17 bomber crew, Hensgens and his wife Anita made a trip to Illinois in July to meet Faith, 87, and her family, as well as the families of the other crewmen.

"I was just awed by it all," Faith said.

Her granddaughter Jennifer Chittum, Polo, agreed.

"We were very touched that there is someone over there taking care of the graves," Chittum said.

Hensgens sent a photo of the cross which marks Robert's grave in the American cemetery at Margraten.

That was the first time Faith had ever seen the gravesite.

Faith, who grew up in Orangeville, said she and Robert, who was from Freeport, met when they both began working at Micro Switch in Freeport.

"Our first date was a high school basketball game," she remembered with a smile. "We went with another couple."

After dating for several months, the couple became engaged.

Robert joined into the Army Air Corps and was trained as a tail-gunner on the huge B-17 bombers, nicknamed "the Flying Fortress." He was soon sent overseas.

"The day he left we just sat and held each other," Faith said. "I think he had an idea he wouldn't come back. As a tail-gunner he was in the worst possible spot."

His plane was shot down on Feb. 14, 1945 on a mission over Germany, just a few miles from Hensgens' home in The Netherlands.

Only two of the nine-member crew survived the crash, and they were taken prisoner by the German army.

After Robert's older brother Harold came home from the war, he and Faith began dating and fell in love.

They moved to Polo in 1947, a year after they were married, and built their house on Maple Street where they raised their two children, Judy and Robert.

"We moved here for his job. He was a lineman for the Northwestern Telephone Company," Faith said.

"Grandpa was known as the 'telephone man' in Polo," Chittum said with a smile.

Harold died Feb. 6, 2009. The couple had been married for 63 years.

It was Harold's obituary that helped Hensgens connect with Faith.

When he Googled "Robert Glaman," Harold's obituary popped in and showed Robert as his brother.

The obituary also showed that Harold had served on the Polo Fire Department.

Hensgens then found Polo Fire Chief Tony Karrow's email address and contacted him to enquire if he had the right Glaman family.

Karrow, in turn, contacted Faith, who doesn't have email.

Chittum does, however, and emailed Hensgens.

In a flurry of emails back and forth, Chittum and Hensgens exchanged information, and set up the July meeting in Naperville that included the families of three other members of Robert's crew.

In an email to Faith, Hensgens explained that he is part of a group that cares for the graves of World War II servicemen in large military cemeteries in his country.

Hensgens' father was a teenager during the war and often told him stories about the kindness and bravery of American soldiers.

Over the years, Hensgens and his family often visited the cemetery and memorial at Margraten, about 15 and one-half miles away from Schinnen, traveling there by bicycle.

He said he had hoped to adopt a grave to care for but didn't think it would be possible, until a newspaper article in 2007 revealed that 3,000 graves were going untended, and more people were needed for the adoption program.

Hensgens asked for and received two graves — one was a soldier from New York, and the other was Prangl.

As Hensgens cared for the graves, he became interested in knowing more about the men buried there.

After learning more about the bomber's mission, he wanted to know as much as he could find out about the men in the bomber's crew.

That led him to his search.

Chittum said Hensgens hopes to write the story of each member of the crew and set up a website in their memory.

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