Grandfather of Heritage Isle resident receives long-overdue medal
Ron Faessen, a resident of Heritage Isle, left, received the Mobilization War Cross from the Dutch government to honor Faessen's grandfather. Louis Hendrik Coppen died of malnutrition in a Japanese POW war camp in 1943. Coppen was a rifleman in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.
Ron Faessen can’t be blamed if a few tears flow from his eyes whenever he finds the iconic 1957 war movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” on television.
Faessen’s grandfather, Louis Hendrik Coppen, died Oct. 15, 1943 of malnutrition in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the village of Chungkai in Thailand. Coppen, a rifleman in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL), was captured March 9, 1942 by Japanese soldiers while defending the island of Java in Indonesia.
Coppen eventually was sent to a POW camp, where the prisoners were forced to work on the construction of the Thai-Burma railroad to India near the River Kwai.
On Dec. 11, military representatives from the Netherlands traveled to Viera to present the Mobilization War Cross to Faessen in honor of his grandfather. Faessen is a resident of Heritage Isle in Viera.
The presentation was held in Building C of the Brevard County Government Center.
“It was just by chance that I found the website theindoproject.org,’’ Faessen said. “Jacq Brijl, a 91-year-old retired Dutch lieutenant colonel, was looking for families whose relatives died during the war. He wants to keep alive the history of my Indo-Dutch ancestry and culture.’’
During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese tried to obtain the support of the Indonesian people by promising their independence from the Dutch after World War II.
“After the war, there was a large migration to Holland and to the rest of the world,’’ Faessen said. “Some in Indonesia wanted to remove the Dutch identity. As part of the Marshall Plan, the Dutch had to give up the Dutch East Indies.’’
Faessen’s father Paul, a member of the Indo–Dutch Marines, married Eleonore Coppen, the oldest daughter of Louis Hendrik Coppen. Ron Faessen has submitted a request to the Dutch government for his father to receive the Cross for Order and Peace for his service during the late 1940s.
Ironically, Ron Faessen was born March 9, 1948. That was six years to the date that his grandfather was captured. Three months after his birth, Paul Faessen moved his family to Holland to live.
In 1952, Faessen’s father moved to the United States and the family soon followed in 1953.
Ron Faessen served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was stationed at Da Nang in South Vietnam. During peace talks in 1972, his unit was transferred to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.
While there, his mother told him that her father was buried nearby in Thailand. He was able to visit his father’s grave site near the River Kwai.
“Before he was sent to Thailand, my mother was able to see her father at a POW camp in Java,’’ Faessen said. “The family was able to bring him food and medicine. The last time my mother saw her father he had teeth missing from being beaten.’’
Faessen and his wife Mona wish that Eleonore Faessen had lived long enough to see her father receive the posthumous medal. She died in February 2016 at the age of 89 from complications after hip replacement surgery.
“When Ron got that phone call from Sgt. Maj. Oranje from the Netherlands telling him about the medal, it was like Christmas Day for him,’’ Mona Faessen said. “His grandfather is finally getting a reward and acknowledgement for what happened. Ron’s mother would be so thrilled.’’
During the investigation process, Faessen received an email from a previously unknown cousin in Germany. The cousin is named after their heroic grandfather. The cousin’s father is the younger brother of Eleonora Coppen Faessen.
“It’s ironic that my family has three generations of military people who fought in Southeast Asia,’’ Faessen said. “In such conflicts, some survive and go on to live their lives. My grandfather didn’t.’’