By David Stevens
Nobody alive today remembers what the J stood for, if it stood for anything. But the man was a war hero and he deserved to be remembered by the proper name.
And so last month, thanks to a World War II researcher and a man who regularly visits the American soldiers cemetery in his hometown of Margraten in the Netherlands, the name on the Army captain’s white cross was changed from Laverne J. Nicklas to J. Laverne Nicklas.
“To some people, it seems a tiny detail,” said Casper Eurlings, who grew up near the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 8,000 Americans killed during WWII are buried. “But I feel this man, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, deserves to be honored and has the right to have his correct name on his grave.”
J. Laverne Nicklas was born on Sept. 21, 1913, on his family’s farm in the Red Lake area between Elida and Dora, according to Steve Dike, an American researcher who worked with Eurlings to have the marker changed.
While Nicklas’ parents — Will and Lillian Nicklas — lived out their lives in Roosevelt County after homesteading there in the early 1900s, their oldest son ventured off to see the world.
J. Laverne graduated from Elida High School in 1931 and soon entered the Civilian Conservation Corps northeast of Deming. That’s how he met Mary Jo Schoepf; they married in 1938 and had two children, both girls.
Carol Nicklas was 5 when her father died, but she knows a lot about him.
“He was big, he was tall, he had a wonderful disposition, always happy,” she said Friday in a telephone interview from her home near Oakland, Calif.
“One of my uncles said when my dad walked in a room, the whole place would light up.”
Carol, 74, a Catholic nun for 53 years, said the J may have been for a grandfather Josiah, but she’s only guessing.
One of her favorite stories about her father came from her mother.
“He was supposed to be putting us to bed, but he didn’t come out and he didn’t come out (of the bedroom),” she said.
Finally her mother went to investigate and found J. Laverne teaching his young daughters to tie bows on their pinafores.
She has a few memories of her own.
“One night after he put us in bed, the lights were left on and we started bouncing on the bed and just having a great time. He came back after a while and said, ‘This is not the time for bouncing.’”
Carol was 4 the last time she saw her dad.
He was boarding a train in Columbus, N.M., on his way back to fighting in Germany during World War II.
“I remember I didn’t want him to go,” she said.
That was in 1944, she’s pretty sure. On April 16, 1945, a month before the war ended, Capt. Nicklas was killed by a sniper.
Carol and her mother broke away from a tour group about 1971 and visited J. Laverne’s grave in Holland.
“I remember the cemetery was extremely impressive, just gorgeous,” she said. “And I remember being very touched.”
She said she’d known for a long time about the error on her father’s grave marker, but she didn’t want to make a big deal about it.
“That was just Casper,” she said. “But it’s kind of nice that it’s right.”
David Stevens is editor for the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at: