World War II friendship remembered with German family on hand to share

Posted July 07, 2009, at 8:30 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Cole Land Transportation Museum founder Galen Cole paid tribute to his boyhood friend Charlie Flanagan at Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Tuesday with the help of an old friend from Germany.

“He was as honest and honorable a person as I have ever known,” Cole said Tuesday, as traffic whizzed by on I-95 and a light drizzle fell on the 14 people standing in a crescent around the grave.

Flanagan, a Bangor native, was killed in combat on Nov. 23, 1944, in Germany. Cole and he were so close that Cole had him immortalized in bronze as the driver of the Willys Jeep outside of the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor.

Cole was joined by his daughter Janet Cross, Flanagan’s brother Tom, Irmgard Volker, and several volunteers from the museum to light a peace candle at the grave.

The connection between Cole and Volker goes back 64 years, when her grandmother Klara Hagemann tended to his and other American soldiers’ wounds at her farm in Albersloh, Germany, after his convoy came under fire.

Nineteen years later, Cole returned to the farm to find that Hagemann had died. But he maintained a friendship with her son Theodore and his wife, Elizabeth. He has since visited the family in Germany six times.

In 2007, when Volker’s mother Elizabeth died, Cole’s daughter Janet sent her a card in German expressing her condolences. Volker responded with a letter in English. A friendship blossomed, and the two have kept in touch ever since.

“It’s very special. I’ve saved a lot of [the letters],” Cross said. “We’ve been able to talk about our feelings instantly,” she added.

To Volker, maintaining a relationship with the family has been rewarding.

“Janet wrote a letter to me in German. She wrote such a nice letter — it was so comfortable to me — we started an e-mail friendship,” she said.

“We found out that life is not that different in Germany and Maine,” she said.

This was Volker’s first visit to the United States. She was joined by her husband Dirker and two sons Lukas and Jonas.

“Irmgard did not know her grandmother, but she’s a chip off the old block,” Cole said.

At the cemetery, Volker and Cross held the peace candle as Tom Flanagan, Charlie’s brother and the father of former CMP President and CEO David Flanagan lit the wick.

“This German candle on this American’s grave shows what has changed in 64 years,” Cole said.

“I appreciate you for remembering him,” Flanagan told Cole afterwards. “But people are forgetting now. Young people think that the Battle of the Bulge happened during the Civil War.”

Volker said that she came to keep alive the memory of the horrors of World War II.

“It was my intention to do this to represent peace and friendship. [To] keep in mind what happened and never it let it happen again,” she said.

She remembered something that Cole had once told her: “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something,” she said.

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