An installation at the Methow Valley Community Center that pays tribute to a Twisp native who perished in World War II has been vandalized, and two of the soldier’s commemorative patches were pried off with a knife and stolen.
The vandalism of the Robert Van Klinken memorial was discovered last Monday, Feb. 14, by community center Executive Director Kirsten Ostlie, but it is believed to have occurred the previous week.
The memorial was covered with plexiglas, which was broken to get at the display. The community center is hoping to raise money for a locked case, Ostlie said.
One of the stolen patches commemorates Van Klinken’s service as a D-Day paratrooper in the elite 101st Airborne Division, commonly known as the “Screaming Eagles,” said Chuck Borg, who assembled the memorial display and installed it at the community center last year. The other stolen patch honored Van Klinken’s service with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Both patches were original WWII patches, given to Borg by a solider who served with Van Klinken.
Borg said he’s located a replacement for the Screaming Eagles patch, since the 101st Airborne Division is still active. But the patch honoring Van Klinken’s service with the parachute regiment is much rarer. Borg has searched all his sources and has been unable to find a replacement. “It appears doubtful that I can find one,” Borg said.
The memorial display is the culmination of decades of devoted research by Borg, who knew Van Klinken’s family when he was a boy. He still recalls his parents’ grief over the news of Van Klinken’s death in 1944, when Borg was just 6 years old. Van Klinken graduated from Twisp high school – then located in the community center building – in 1939.
When Borg was stationed in Europe in 1962 during his service in the U.S. Army, he visited the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, where Van Klinken is buried, and happened upon his grave.
“The person or persons responsible for this act of vandalism and theft showed total dishonor and contempt for this fallen WWII hero,” Borg said. “I suspect the person or persons were ‘trophy hunting’ and knew the significance of those patches. I’m sure this person or persons have contempt and disrespect for all veterans in general.”
Van Klinken parachuted into Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and was wounded several days later in heavy fighting. He recovered from his wounds, rejoined his unit and, on September 17, 1944, the Screaming Eagles parachuted into the Netherlands. Van Klinken was killed three days later.
Over the years, Borg has gathered Van Klinken’s war medals and sought out survivors of his regiments to collect their stories. He created a scholarship fund for Liberty Bell High School graduates in Van Klinken’s honor. He assembled the letters, photos and other memorabilia in the community center display.
Both units Van Klinken served in have been featured on the screen, in a TV miniseries and a movie. The Screaming Eagles were memorialized in “Band of Brothers,” the miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks based on the Stephen E. Ambrose bestseller. The 101st Airborne parachute Division was portrayed in the 1977 movie “A Bridge Too Far.”
Ostlie said she hopes people will recognize the significance of the patches and of honoring a local veteran who gave his life. “The patches can be returned, no questions asked, by dropping them into my drop box on the community center office door,” Ostlie said.