WOLCOTTVILLE, IND. — On Sept. 20, 1944, Norris B. Case died a hero as the U.S. Army liberated the city of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, from occupation by Nazi Germany.
In four weeks, Nijmegen will dedicate a new bridge to the memory of Case and 47 fellow soldiers who died in the battle to control a strategic bridge over the Waal River.
Case’s niece and her family will attend the ceremony as invited guests of the Dutch city, along with dozens of relatives of other fallen U.S. soldiers.
“This is the first chance we’ve had as a family to go where Norris gave his life, so it’s really special,” said Barbara Phelps, a Lakeland High School graduate who now lives in Chile.
“He is entitled to be recognized, and I’m glad Holland is going to do that,” said Nancy Case of Wolcottville, who married Norris Case’s younger brother, the late Don Case.
Nancy Case was 12 or 13 years old when Norris Case died, but she knew him because he had worked at a filling station and restaurant owned by her father, George Worley.
“He was very ambitious,” she said about Norris Case, who was born in 1922. He picked apples, ran a milk route and served as student manager of the basketball team at Wolcottville High School. After graduation, he was working in South Bend to when he was drafted to serve in the Army during World War II.
After basic training, Norris Case came back to Wolcottville on leave.
“To the best of my knowledge, he was never home again,” Nancy Case said. But her husband remembered that visit for the rest of his life, cherishing the memory of hunting at nearby Woodruff with his older brother.
Norris and Don Case loved hunting, hiking and fishing in LaGrange County, said Phelps, Don Case’s daughter.
“He just had really fond memories of spending time with his brother,” she added about her father.
Assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as a radio operator, Norris Case saw a broad span of World War II. He began his journey in northern Africa and pushed into Sicily and Italy. Then came an assignment to England.
“They stayed there, and they didn’t go on D-Day, because they were a special group that was going to go into Holland,” Nancy Case said. Operation Market Garden dropped Norris Case and his unit behind the German lines as part of the largest airborne operation in history, delivering more than 34,000 soldiers.
On Sept. 20, Case’s unit arrived at Nijmegen, near the German border, to wrest control of the bridge from the Nazis. Several hundred U.S. paratroopers crossed the Waal River in rickety boats under heavy fire.
A letter Gen. James Gavin wrote to Case’s family described what he called Case’s “heroic action” on that day.
Gavin said a lieutenant commanding Case’s group was hit by artillery fire, and Case went to rescue him.
“After two attempts, he needed to retreat because of heavy incoming artillery fire, but, on his third attempt he reached his platoon commander,” Gavin wrote. “While he administered first aid, he was hurt himself by shrapnel of a grenade. During his rescue attempts, Case never failed his (duties) as a radio operator. He kept his commander informed of the situation with the enemy.
“With his unselfishness and voluntary action in a life-threatening situation, Case placed himself in the highest traditions of the Army,” Gavin concluded.
In spite of Case’s efforts, his commander, Lt. Edward Wisniewski, died a couple of days later from his wounds.
Back in Wolcottville, “It was hard for our little place,” to receive the news of Case’s death, Nancy Case said.
Norris Case was buried in Holland for five years before his body was returned for a funeral and burial in Woodruff. The family relived the tragedy all over again, Phelps said. Making the situation worse, her father was drafted for the Korean War shortly afterward.
“It was very, very hard for him to lose him. He just missed him his entire life,” Phelps said about her father’s loss of his brother.
Next month in Nijmegen, a 2,000-year-old city of 165,000 people, Phelps will attend the bridge dedication ceremonies with her husband and their son and daughter-in-law, who live in Switzerland.
On Friday, Nov. 22, the visitors will cross the Waal in boats as the U.S. soldiers did 69 years ago. A meal will allow the soldiers’ relatives to meet each other.
Dedication of the bridge named De Oversteek (The Crossing) will follow on Saturday, Nov. 23. The next day, the guests will tour the Liberation museum devoted to World War II and the cemetery where Norris Case was buried temporarily and where many U.S. soldiers remain.
The newspaper in Nijmegen has published stories profiling the lives of all the fallen U.S. soldiers for whom it could find details, including Case.
Norris Case received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart medal, and a memorial stone in a Wolcottville park lists his name along with two other local soldiers who died in World War II. Dedication of the bridge will add a new honor for Case.
“I think he certainly earned it. He did get the Bronze Star. In my opinion, it should have been a higher honor,” Nancy Case said. “I know that in many places in Europe, they were very thankful, for what our soldiers did.”