KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Each year new names are added to the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial in downtown Knoxville and often the volunteer responsible for uncovering those overlooked Marines, soldiers and sailors is an ocean away.
“If I get a free hour, I will just comb through newspapers online,” said Astrid Van Erp.
For around a decade now, from her home in the Netherlands, the history sleuth has devoted hundreds of hours to uncovering new evidence online of East Tennessee veterans. She is finding veterans who deserve the honor of joining more than 6,000 names etched in granite pillars of military men and women from 35 counties killed since World War I in military service.
“Well, I'm a veteran myself. So it's important to remember what happened with those soldiers,” said Van Erp, in a recent interview over Zoom.
She spelled out her methodology in an email. It is available below:
I am going through thousands of newspaper articles from 1941-1960. If I find an article, it usually gives me tons of information, like family members, hometown, dates of enlistment/ graduations/going overseas etc. I first check if he indeed was from East Tennessee and then try to find more information. If it is an article without a photo, then I will search in newspapers from previous years and search on these dates. This way I found lots of information for other soldiers. I would have found his name in the end, but in this case it was pure luck.
Pure appreciation. That is how caretakers of the memorial in Knoxville describe the effort and impact of their devoted researcher and friend on foreign soil.
“I think it was in 2012 or 2013. She had contacted me via email to say that she had information on several of the names on our website. She was one of the key volunteers for the U.S. Military Cemetery at Margraten. As time went on, I realized what an amazing researcher she was for us … and all of it as a volunteer,” said John Romeiser, an East Tennessee Veteran Memorial representative, in an email about the initial connection that sparked a lasting relationship and one that continues to foster new discoveries.
“This year we had about 17 or 18 names that were engraved and at least half of those names came from her. That would include World War I, World War II and maybe Korea,” he said standing in front of the memorial dedicated in 2008 in World’s Fair Park and pointing out a space where new names can be engraved.
Just after our interview in the shadow of the memorial, Romeiser received another email from his veteran overseas detective, Astrid had found a new name. That email is below:
7 July 2022
I found another name. Robert F. Brooks was born on 9 October 1921 and died on 21 November 1944. I can't find him onwww.wwiimemorial.com, not sure why but it might be the reason why we missed his name.
He entered the service on 18 July 1942 at Knoxville with Army serial number 14132169. He died with Army serial number O-717741
Second Lieutenant Brooks was a bombardier on A/C 4-95180, nickname “Satans Little Sister II”.
On 21 November 1944, the American B-24 H 42-95180 was hit by flak over Hamburg. The aircraft had departed from Bungay and targeted Hamburg. This aircraft was hit by a Flak under the left wing, motor no. 1 and 2 out. On the return to England turned south to try to reach liberated south-Netherlands. Fuel ran out, pilot let crew jump on southern coastline Lake IJsselmeer, but wind blew 7 parachutes in the water. Only the two pilots landed on the dyke. The other seven drowned.
2nd Lt. Brooks body washed up near Spakenburg 6 February 1945. He is buried at the Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, Knox County, TN