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Louie Douglas Whitaker, from McDowell County, W.Va., served as a private in the U.S. Army, inducted on Jan. 20, 1944. He was killed Jan. 13, 1945, in the Ardennes region of Belgium, according to the U.S. World War II Registry.
His body, like thousands others, was not returned to the United States.
Earlier this year, a Dutch man sought Whitaker’s survivors. Max Poorthuis of the Netherlands contacted Southern Maryland Newspapers after he found an obituary for Whitaker’s son, Mike Whitaker of Mechanicsville, who died Aug. 7, 2010. Poorthuis was searching for survivors.
Poorthuis wrote, “I would like them to know that I am taking the time to keep the memory of Douglas Whitaker alive.”
Douglas Whitaker is buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium, an area which was taken back from Nazi Germany by the U.S. 1st Infantry Division on Sept. 11, 1944, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission. The cemetery is a shade more than six miles away from German border.
Poorthuis, 19, has adopted the graves of several American soldiers recently.
“That’s great,” said Darlene Whitaker, Douglas Whitaker’s daughter-in-law, who lives in Mechanicsville. She said she assumed the person who contacted her was someone older, perhaps in his 70s. “So many of our young generation aren’t interested in that kind of thing,” she said.
Darlene and Mike Whitaker moved to Mechanicsville in 1986. All of Douglas Whitaker’s sons are dead, but some of his grandchildren live in St. Mary’s County.
Poorthuis said via email he is a student studying health sciences at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, aspiring to become a doctor.
“Besides my interests in medicine, I am very interested in the Second World War, especially the European Theatre of Operations 1944-1945,” he wrote. “I guess it all started with the HBO miniseries ‘Band of Brothers,’ which I first saw almost ten years ago.
“Because of my interests in the Normandy landings, I visit Normandy every year to meet with my friend, Command Sergeant Major Bill Ryan, who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. During my visit in 2012 we spoke about the Dutch and our dedication to the American liberators. When I got back to my hotel room, I immediately submitted a request to adopt a name on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten.
“After a few weeks, I became the proud adopter of 2/Lt. Salvatore S. Panepinto. I told my friend about the adoption and he said he would like to adopt a name or grave as well. So we both submitted a request. I don’t know why, but the cemetery allocated two names, instead of one, to me,” he wrote.
At that point, Poorthuis had adopted three names. He worked with a Dutch nonprofit website and the team asked him to adopt some graves at the nearby Henri-Chapelle cemetery.
“This was an offer I could not refuse, because we owe a lot to the soldiers buried there, and adopting their graves [is] the least we could do,” Poorthuis wrote. “Douglas’ marker was one of the graves I adopted. The cemetery allocated his grave to me at random, because I have told them to do that, because all the soldiers buried there are heroes to me,” he said.
“It affected people there more than it did here,” Darlene Whitaker said.
A battlefield cemetery was established there on Sept. 28, 1944, and there are 7,987 headstones there.
Poorthuis doesn’t know the exact circumstances of Douglas Whitaker’s death, but he requested his Individual Deceased Personnel File from the National Archives.
According to the U.S. World War II Registry, Douglas Whitaker was killed in action on Saturday, Jan. 13, 1945, during the 30th Army Division’s counteroffensive in the Ardennes campaign in the Battle of the Bulge. He died in the Malmedy-Stavelot area as the Allies pushed Germany out of occupied territory on the way to Berlin to end the war in Europe that year. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart with a bronze oak leaf cluster.
There isn’t much responsibility involved in adopting a grave, Poorthuis said. The cemetery expects a few visits a year, particularly on Memorial Day. He now has adopted the graves of nine Americans.
Poorthuis’ great-uncle served in the German Army from 1942 up until his death on May 13, 1944, in the Battle of Polozk, where he drowned in the Polota River in Belarus.
The American Battle Monuments Commission operates and maintains 24 American cemeteries and 25 memorials, monuments and markers in 15 countries.