WWII Christmas Card Identification Research: Henry Behrens of Grand Island, Nebraska

UPDATE: This Christmas card has been returned to the Son of Mr. Henry Behrens.  He found this post while searching for information about his father online.  I’m pleased to have returned yet-another WWII photo to it’s rightful place.

Followers of PortraitsofWar will know that I love to do in-depth research to ferret out the names and stories of WWI and WWII veterans through the photographs they left behind.  In this case, I purchased an inexpensive World War II postcard on eBay with the hopes of doing some sleuthing to find the identity of the sender.  I already have a huge backlog of material to post, but I figured I would add yet another to the collection.

A Pilot Christmas Card

A Pilot Christmas Card


The card was interesting, and had nice composition.  These style cards were often sent home by veterans to family members back home.  With this in mind, I flipped over the card to check the reverse.  Bingo.  A name and address.  Figuring that he likely send the card home to a family member (and not to himself) I began a quick ancestry.com search for the name.  John Behrens of Grand Isalnd, Nebraska.  I pulled the 1930 census record for the Behrens family to see if there were any likely candidates for the sitter in the photo.  My initial guess was the he was likely 20-25 years old.

1930 censusThe address matched up on another record, so I’m 100% confident that this is the John Behrens named on the reverse of the postcard.  John had two sons named Willie and Henry.  Both were born in Germany and eventually emmigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1920s.  I thoroughly researched both brothers and eventually found a reference to Henry having been in the air corps during WWII.  His obituary also confirms that he was born in Eckenforde, Germany.  It also sounds like he was a lifetime Air Force veteran.

Here’s his obituary:

Marin Independent Journal
Saturday, June 29, 1985


A memorial service for Henry Behrens of Novato will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Redwood Chapel Funeral Home in Novato.

Mr. Behrens died unexpectedly Wednesday at his residence. He was 67.

He was a native of Eckenforde, Germany. He spent 31 years in the U.S. Army and the Air Force. He retired from Hamilton Air Force Base in 1966.

His most recent job was office service manager for Mission Equity Insurance Co. in San Francisco.

He is survived by his wife, Runee Behrens of Novato; two sons, William H. Behrens of San Jose and John W. Behrens of Fairfield; a daughter, Linda P. Garrecht of Irvine; his mother, Alwine Behrens of Grand Island, Neb.; and three grandsons.

Inurnment will take place at 3 p.m. Tuesday during a graveside service at the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

The family prefers memorial gifts to the American Heart Fund.


4 thoughts on “WWII Christmas Card Identification Research: Henry Behrens of Grand Island, Nebraska

  1. Very good sluthing.

    The Christmas card is a photo of my father, Henry Behrens, taken during WWII, that was sent to his parents in Grand Island, NE.

    Funny, for some reason, my father was never very fond of the photo. I always enjoyed the photo and have a 5 x 7 setting out on my dresser. I was not aware that the photo was sent to my grandparents as a Christmas greeting.

    I suspect the photo was taken when my parents were living in either Santa Monica or Venice, during WWII, where my father was stationed. At the time, he assigned to work in Special Services, but also worked night jobs at Douglas and North American Aircraft for extra money.

    Thank you for refreshing a wonderful memory of my father.

    • John,

      It’s interactions like these that make my hobby worthwhile. I’m glad I was able to make a positive identification using the available resources. To be completely honest, I only paid $5 for the photo on eBay and would be more than happy to send you the card free of charge. I feel like it belongs with the family and not sitting in a binder in rural Vermont.

      Thanks for finding my site and making my day!


      • Thank you for your nice reply.

        I don’t know if you were able to do any research on my father’s brother, John W. Behrens. The Census data just lists him by his nick name, Willi.

        He enlisted in the Navy in 1932, entered the Mustang program during WWII and became an officer in the Regular Navy. He was promoted to Lieutenant and was the commanding officer of LST 531 that was sunk in the English Channel on April 28, 1944. He was listed as MIA, and declared dead a year later.

        The ship was participating in Exercise Tiger, a mock D-Day landing exercise in Slapton Sands, England. The convoy of seversl LSTs was hit by German E-Boats from France, two LSTs were sunk, and one was severely damaged. The total loss of life was about 750 solders and sailors, greater than the total loss on Utah Beach on D-Day, where LST 531 was to have landed.

        There were several books written on Exercise Tiger because of the secrecy and large loss of life just before the Normandy landing. About a dozen of those lost had Bigot classified maps and information about the pending Invasion .

        My grandparents and father never received much information on how Lt. John Behrens lost his life. It was always a mystery — “His ship was torpedoed” was what I was always told.

        I’d really appreciate you sening me the Christmas card. My address is:

        John W. Behrens, 6111 N. Via del Tecaco, Tucson, AZ 85718.

        In return, I’ll share a first-person German account of the E-Boat raid on the convoy.

        Interesting, the convoy was apparently never alerted to the E-Boats because of a mixup in radio frequencies. The British Admiral overseeing Exercise Tiger, i recall it was Adm. Moon, committed suicide shortly after the event.

        Thanks again,


      • John,

        Sorry for the delay. I will get this card out to you ASAP.

        Maybe you would like to do a write up on your uncle for my site? It would certainly be something that others would enjoy. I have a good number of followers that love this type of personal story.


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