What started out as a little Dutch boy’s hobby has turned into an international affair.
Sebastiaan Vonk, the 14-year-old whose quest to find the family of World War II hero Lawrence Shea was documented in The Brooklyn Paper in January, has finally linked up with Shea’s American descendents and gotten what he really craved: Shea’s story.
Born in 1923 in Brooklyn, Shea lived in the borough until he enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1943. The corporal was a towering figure at 6-foot-8, and fought numerous battles across Germany in the 80th Infantry Division.
On April 2, 1945, he was stationed near the industrial city of Kassel when a tank ambush caught his unit unaware. Shea fell — struck in the chest by an artilliary round.
Sixty years later, Vonk read some books on WWII that sparked his interest, and found out it was possible to adopt the grave of US soldiers buried in Europe.
He adopted Shea’s grave last year, but he did more than just place flowers. Vonk also reached out to The Paper in hopes of finding Shea’s family and discovering more about the hero’s life. It was a slim chance, but the inquiring Dutchman didn’t have many other options — most of the corporal’s records were destroyed in a 1973 fire.
After The Paper ran an article about Vonk, one of Shea’s nephews, now living in Pennsylvania, got in touch with him.