Holy Cross Alumnus and Genealogy Enthusiast Honors Local Veterans

Paul Brueggemann ’84

Paul Brueggemann ’84 has turned his hobby into a service for others

As a longtime genealogy enthusiast, Paul Brueggemann '84 is always looking for his next research project. Last spring, long days at home amidst the pandemic inspired him to tackle something he'd been thinking about for years. He and his wife, Janine, hopped in their car and went on a winding hunt around Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where he lives and grew up. The pair was on a mission: Locate and compile a list of every town veterans square, named in honor of veterans or volunteers with Shrewsbury ties.

"We found 21 of them on the first shot," shares Brueggemann, who says distinctive bronze name plaques made the squares easy to spot. After some local outreach, he obtained a full list revealing 10 squares he'd missed on their ride. As a way to honor these 31 veterans, Brueggemann set out to research and document details of their lives — giving himself a deadline of Veterans Day 2020 to share his findings with the community. He says a similar project completed in neighboring Worcester inspired the idea.

Brueggemann, who has worked in insurance for 37 years, first took a genealogy course in the late 1980s while trying to help his family fill in gaps about his grandfather's naval service in World War II. He has been indulging his love of history and solving "mysteries," as he calls his projects, ever since. "Once I started, I was pretty hooked," he says. "Even though I was a math major, I always gravitated to taking history classes at Holy Cross."

Collaborating with local historians and veterans groups, Brueggemann scoured census and military records, obituaries, cemeteries, old newspaper articles and high school yearbooks to piece together the 31 veterans' stories. He discovered that they served across six conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the war in Afghanistan. With each backstory, Brueggemann says the squares he'd passed by for decades took on deeper meaning.

One name in particular — Cpl. Lloyd E. Hill, USMC — piqued his curiosity.

Wondering if the corporal was related to his longtime next-door neighbor Marion (Hill) Kniskern, who passed away in 2014, Brueggemann emailed Kniskern's daughter, also a neighbor. She confirmed his suspicions: Hill was, in fact, Kniskern's brother. "I didn't know the square existed, and I didn't know that Marion had a brother who died in the Korean War," he says. "I lived next door to them for 20 years. They were great neighbors. I went into this not knowing anything about that."

Brueggemann worked with Kniskern’s son, Jonathan, on a biographical summary to honor Hill's memory. "It's a heart-wrenching story and what got to me were the photos," Brueggemann shares. He explains that a photograph of Hill with his Purple Heart medal (above right) — which the corporal noted "would make my uniform look quite spiffy!" in a 1951 letter home to family — was taken a month before he was killed at age 21 in the Battle of Bloody Ridge. "You can see how weary he was," he says with emotion. "This is probably the story that got to me the most. It was mostly the personal connection to my neighbors, but it was also what the kid went through. Most of these stories ... they were so young.

"This is probably the square closest to our house," he continues. "You would drive by it and never notice it." Brueggemann says he now thinks about Hill, his family and the meaning of sacrifice, each time he passes.

Brueggemann's research went live on the Shrewsbury Historical Society website in time for Veterans Day — his original goal. "It’s been a great project and really well received," he says. "The last year has been tough, and this project allowed me to reach out to various people in the community."

Brueggemann says learning more about his own roots through genealogy research — from the ancestors who immigrated to the U.S. to roll cigars in the Connecticut River Valley, to the three generations of machinists who were part of Worcester's booming industrial heritage — fills him with a sense of pride and gratitude. "I was really the first one in the family to graduate from college," he notes. "It's like any family trying to improve their child’s education: There was a lot of sacrifice in my family to make that happen."

After losing both parents to cancer, Brueggemann says the desire to help others — a value instilled by his family and through the Jesuit mission at Holy Cross — inspired him to raise $65,000 for cancer research as a 10-year rider with the Pan-Mass Challenge bike-a-thon. "That was probably one of my proudest achievements," he says.

Brueggemann hopes to eventually conduct further genealogy coursework so he can assist even more people in solving the mysteries important to them: “It’s not just about connection through history,” he reflects. “It’s about service and trying to help others.”

Written by Meredith Fidrocki for the Summer 2021 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

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