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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- On a serene Sicilian hillside, an American Soldier recently placed a small flower bouquet beside the name of a fallen German soldier.
An emotional family journey brought Maj. Nik Guran, a 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment Soldier, from his post at Ramstein Air Base to Motta - St. Anasastasia.
Amid olive trees, with Mount Etna looming nearby, several thousand German soldiers who were killed during the allied invasion of Sicily in World War II, rest in peace.
One of them, Jakob Nikolaus Forell, is Guran's grandfather.
Guran and his wife, Michelle, recently paid respects to a man he never met, but heard many stories about. Along with the bouquet, they placed American and German flags
"I never thought I would be there," said Guran, the only blood relative to visit his grandfather's grave. "It was always just stories before."
Born in July 13, 1916 in Bad Krueznach, Forell joined the German Army during the 1930's. He lived on Heidelberg's Haupstrasse, now the city's pedestrian shopping zone. When WWII started, the family story goes, Forell and his two brothers were sent to fight on the Eastern front, Guran said.
Wounded there, Forell returned to Germany to convalesce with his wife, Anneliese, and his young son Claude, Guran's father. Photos from that time show Claude with his father, in dress uniform, in Heidelberg. After recovering, Forell was sent to Sicily. U.S. forces landed at Gela, along Sicily's southern coast on July 10, 1943. Forell was killed July 12, the day before his 27th birthday.
After the war, Forell's widow and son emigrated to America. She remarried and her new husband adopted Guran's father.
"It's always been a mystery who my grandfather was," Guran said. "It has always been a bit of a touchy subject based on the fact that my dad wanted us to be American and never taught us the language."
Serving in uniform was a theme that resonated within his Guran's family. His father served in the U.S. Air Force. In the 1970's, during a tour in Germany, Claude rediscovered his German roots, Guran said. Unfortunately, at that time, he couldn't find more information about his father.
A couple years ago, when the Gurans moved to the Kaiserslautern Military Community, they renewed the search. Armed with historical documents that Guran's family kept, they found some clues. Still, they couldn't pinpoint Forell's grave.
"I just couldn't believe, in this day and age, there wasn't a way we couldn't find if he was actually buried somewhere," Michelle Guran said.
During one late-night research session, where Michelle Guran used computer translating services and the German War Graves Commission's site, she found what they had been searching for. Guran's grandfather's gravesite was at Motta - St. Anasastasia, on the island of Sicily.
"When I finally found it, I started crying," Michelle said. "We have been looking for so long."
She called her husband, who was training elsewhere in Germany, with the news. Thrilled, Guran began planning to visit the cemetery, which he expected to be in disrepair.
"It's probably dilapidated and grown over," Guran thought. "The tomb markers (are) probably knocked over, if there are any still there."
When the Gurans arrived at the cemetery, just eight kilometers from Catania, they were amazed at how well-preserved the cemetery was. The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraverfursorge e. V., a private organization that is responsible for the maintenance and care of German graves worldwide, maintains the cemetery in Sicily, the final resting place of 4,552 German troops.
Guran paid his respects and to put closure to his search.
"It was very moving," Guran said. "Truth is, if he hadn't died in Sicily and the Germans hadn't lost the war, I wouldn't be here. So, he sacrificed for me in that way. I was instilled with an obligation to serve our nation. I was raised that way. My father was raised that way. He wanted me to be an American, but that all stems from his German upbringing."
Guran's father died in 2009. Visiting his grandfather's final resting place also honored his father, who never got to pay his respects to his father.
"That is why it was important for Nik to put both a German flag and an American flag at the grave," Michelle Guran said. "It all came full circle."