It can be extremely difficult going from spending years by another person’s side to suddenly being on your own.
Nineteen-year-old twins Julius “Henry” Pieper and Ludwig “Louie” Pieper were inseparable. The brothers served together on the same ship in World War II, and though they both died when their ship hit a German mine on Utah Beach in France, they were separated, albeit in death, for 74 years.
That is until a high school student was assigned a school project.
Henry and Louie were like two peas in a pod.
The identical twins were born in South Dakota, but when they were barely 10 years old their parents moved them to the small town of Creston, Nebraska.
Henry and Louie, as their family referred to them, graduated from high school before getting jobs working on the railroad.
Shortly before their 18th birthdays, they enlisted, with their parents’ consent, in the United States Navy, just like their older brother, Fred.
They both enlisted in the Navy and attended radio school.
After studying Morse code at the University of Chicago, the inseparable pair became radio operators on Landing Ship Tank Number 523 (LST-523), which was nicknamed Stardust.
“They pleaded with grandpa,” Linda Suitor Pieper, their niece, told CBS News. “Grandpa then wrote a letter to their commanding officer saying, ‘My boys came into the world together, they want to serve together, and if they go down together, so be it.'”
The two served on the same ship and on June 19, 1944, their ship hit a mine, splitting the Stardust in two and killing 117 of the 145 crewmembers onboard. The Piepers were two of those casualties.
Thirteen days after D-Day the twins were killed.
Louie’s body was found off the coast of Utah Beach, the ship’s intended destination, and he was buried in what is now known as the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
But Henry was missing.
His brother, who also perished in the attack, was not found until French divers discovered his body in 1961.
At the time, authorities were unable to identify the body that had been found inside the ship’s radio room, so the unknown soldier was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.
While the Piepers wondered if Henry would ever receive the proper burial he deserved, a high school student, Vanessa Taylor, was given an assignment to research a “silent hero” from her home state.
She chose Henry Pieper.
“It really felt like [the brothers] were real people whose stories needed to be told,” Taylor, now a student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, said.
The high school student’s research put a spotlight on Henry.
During her research, Taylor and her teacher sought Henry’s personnel file, which caught the attention of an agency that had already been investigating graves of the unknown.
“If she hadn’t made the request at the time, we don’t know when this [ceremony] would have happened,” Tim Nosal, spokesman for the American Battle Monuments Commission, said.
In April 2017, Henry’s remains were disinterred.
After looking at X-rays and dental records, officials were able to announce that the body that had been buried in Belgium was Henry Pieper.
“It was like this big burden off her shoulders,” Susan Lawrence, the boys’ niece said. “It was very surreal. After all these years—how many, 70 years or so?—that they could identify somebody. It was like, ‘Oh, thank God. What a blessing. He’s no longer unknown.’”
In 2018, the twins were finally reunited.
Linda Suitor and her brother Louis sand the headstone of their uncle, Radioman 2nd Class Ludwig Pieper, who is already buried in Normandy American Cemetery.
Mary Ann Lawrence, Henry and Louie’s sister, decided that her brothers should be buried in Normandy.
“They were born together, and they wanted to be together,” Mary Ann said. “That’s their wishes, so we’ll go by their wishes.”
Their family traveled to Normandy to see Henry join Louie.
Normandy American Cemetery Guide Stephanie Le Bris leads an interpretative program for the Pieper family. From left to…
The family had one special request, which the government granted. They wanted the twins to be buried next to each other. Prior to Henry’s burial, Louie was disinterred and moved to a plot so he and his brother could lie by his side.
“They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be,” Susan told the Associated Press.