Be Merciful Story

John Kormann (1924-2015) was a liaison officer and paratrooper in the US 17th Airborne Division during World War II. He had grown up in a German-speaking household in New York City, the son of immigrants. The day before Operation Varsity, he received a letter from his mother saying, “Son, I know you are going into battle soon. Please remember that the young man you are fighting has a mother who loves and prays for him as I love and pray for you, and be merciful.”

Kormann was very distressed by this letter but forgot about it in the commotion of the next day’s flight and his crash landing into battle. He was at the rear of a group of American soldiers who were going to each farmhouse looking for the German snipers that were shooting their paratrooper comrades out of the sky. The others had gone ahead but Kormann heard voices in the potato cellar of the Tofahrn/Lenkeit courtyard building at Thülenweg 4 in Hamminkeln.

Thinking the German soldiers were hiding there, he prepared to throw a grenade into the cellar when he remembered his mother’s letter. Instead, he called urgently in German for those inside to come up. To his astonishment, up came 14 civilians: 9 women and 5 children. His mother’s letter had saved their lives and the burden that would have been with Kormann forever.

Although the building with the potato cellar has since been demolished, in 2016 (71 years later), with the help of military tour guide Jos Bex and an article in the Rheinische Post, Kormann’s daughter was able to find and meet one of the children who had been hiding in that potato cellar which was unique in that part of Germany.

In 2017 a bilingual Be Merciful plaque was unveiled in the immediate vicinity of Liberation Tower. At a lunch afterwards, a number of the elderly residents of Hamminkeln who had been children at the time of Operation Varsity shared their memories of March 24, 1945 with Hamminkeln schoolchildren and American veterans and their families. A British military historian who attended described the event on this website.