Sag Harbor Veteran Finds Peace, Resilience in Shared Memories

Joyce Mourmans Heusschen from Holland, Sag Harbor veteran Alvin Corwin (center) and Louis Amoruso from Massachusetts at the memorial in Marine Park.
Joyce Mourmans Heusschen from Holland, Sag Harbor veteran Alvin Corwin (center) and Louis Amoruso from Massachusetts at the memorial in Marine Park.
Joyce Mourmans Heusschen from Holland, Sag Harbor veteran Alvin Corwin (center) and Louis Amoruso from Massachusetts at the memorial in Marine Park.

By Jim Marquardt

It could have been a somber gathering. Alvin and Elaine Corwin’s guests from as far apart as Holland and Massachusetts, met early this month for the first time. Mr. Corwin, who lives in Redwood, brought them together because they all had been touched by devastating events during World War II. But instead of sadness, their stories that day reflected courage and resilience, and they found peace and kinship in shared memories.

You may remember we wrote about Mr. Corwin’s wartime experiences in the November 5 issue of The Sag Harbor Express last year, and ran a photo on the front page of him and Elaine on their wedding day in Brooklyn in 1943. Just commissioned in the Army, he left a few days later for Camp Stewart, Georgia for further training. His unit, the 562nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, shipped out to Europe in September 1944. During those tense times, Mr. Corwin became close friends with another lieutenant, Louis Amoruso. As the front lines moved from Normandy deeper into Europe, the battalion was defending against German air attacks near Wessel, Germany when a freak accident killed Lt. Amoruso. The 26-year old Amoruso, a journalist from Boston, left a young wife and infant son back in Dedham, Massachusetts. He was buried in what became the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. As we reported in the November article, Father Pierre Heynen, a local Jesuit priest whom Mr. Corwin had befriended, began a program for Dutch youngsters to care for the burial grounds of fallen Americans. Mr. Corwin asked nine-year old Annie Heusschen-Gorissen who lived near the cemetery to care for Amoruso’s grave. Annie had been shocked by the war, by buzz bombs whizzing overhead and the crash of a war plane into her school playground.

When The Express article appeared, Mr. Corwin sent copies to Annie’s daughter Joyce in Holland who had assumed care of the grave when her mother died. She immediately contacted Mr. Corwin and said, “I must come to Sag Harbor to meet you and share our thoughts and memories.” Meanwhile, the Corwins’ son, Steve, tracked down Louis Amoruso Jr. who had grown up without his father, and told him about Joyce’s coming visit. Louis Jr. responded “I’m coming too.”

Louis Jr. and his wife Shirley arrived here by rail. Joyce landed at JFK with her husband Patrick and their teenage sons Max and Luke. On a sunny day, Mr. Corwin brought them together for a picnic at Marine Park. Afterwards, Steve took their guests on a brief tour. They were impressed with Sag Harbor, especially the size of the homes, the beauty of the waterfront and the ocean beaches at Bridgehampton. That evening the Corwin family invited their guests to Baron’s Cove for a private dinner. The gathering lasted well into the night as Joyce and Louis Jr. and Alvin talked about the pain and loss of the war, the story of their lives since then, and their hopes for the future.

This was the first visit to the United States for Joyce Mourmans Heusshen and her family. They live in the town of Cadier En Keer in the Netherlands, not far from the military cemetery in Margraten. Before Annie died in July of 2015, she and Joyce usually went together to bring flowers to Lt. Amoruso’s grave, keeping their promise to Mr. Corwin and Father Heynen. Joyce said that on the Dutch Memorial Day, May 29 she and her mother always made a special trip to the cemetery to lay flowers in front of Lt. Amoruso’s white granite cross. She was pleased that a Dutch film company made a motion picture about the care of the American graves which was shown in Europe and at U.S. Army posts.

After the war, as Louis Amoruso Jr. grew older, he asked his mother how his father had been killed, but she didn’t know the details. Mr. Corwin clearly remembered. As American forces advanced into Germany and prepared to cross the Rhine, the 562nd was guarding a munitions depot against air attack. A badly shot up American bomber returning from a mission crash-landed in an open field and skidded into the munitions. Closest to the crash site, Lt. Amoruso and a few others ran to the plane to rescue its crewmembers. They had pulled out several men when the aircraft exploded and critically injured Mr. Amoruso. Mr. Corwin was with him when he died three days later in an evacuation hospital. When he grew older, Louis Jr. asked his mother if she would bring his father back to the States for re-burial, but she thought it was more fitting for his dad to rest there in the company of 8300 other American soldiers. Overlooking the Latin Crosses and Stars of David, a monument in the cemetery is etched with the words “In memory of the valor and sacrifices which hallow this soil.”

At the end of dinner, the Mourman family, and the Amorusos expressed warm farewells before leaving the next day, one to Massachusetts, the others to New York City for a few days then home to Holland. They exchanged addresses and hugs and promised to keep in touch with Alvin and Elaine Corwin who had brought them together.