Private First Class
Private First Class Milburn H. Henke served in the United States Army during the Second World War. He hailed from Hutchinson, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Private First Class Henke arrived in Northern Ireland on 26th January 1942 aged 23 years old as part of the first contingent of American troops. He became famous as the “first” American to set foot on European soil during the war. Photos of the quiet, soft-spoken young American soon appeared across the world.
When leaving the United States of America, Henke and his fellow countrymen did not know where they were bound. There were no large crowds waving goodbye, and no large send-off. His parents, however, knew he would be destined for some distant battlefield and his father sent a postcard on which he wrote:
Give ’em hell, boy!
Henke’s father had been born in Germany but emigrated to the United States of America aged 1 year old. His mother was also of German descent, and the family owned a restaurant in Hutchinson, Minnesota. Milburn worked there before enlisting in the U.S. Army in September 1941. As Henke stepped ashore in Belfast, reporters wondered how a soldier with German heritage came to be the first man ashore. Henke surmised:
They just grabbed me.
Newspaper reporters inquired into all aspects of Henke’s life in Minnesota. Did he have a girlfriend? What did he have for breakfast? The polite young soldier answered all he could, even telling reporters the name of his girlfriend, Iola Christiansen. He then added wistfully:
Maybe she’s crackin’ up with some other guy by now.
During interviews, Private First Class Henke raised some laughs by not being entirely sure of his whereabouts. Wherever he was, he was glad to be there.