CADILLAC - A Cadillac World War II veteran who was shot down over Germany was remembered over Memorial Day Weekend by the retired Belgium colonel who takes care of his grave.

Keith M. Pickel, a 1939 Cadillac High School graduate, was a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber in the 8th Air Force. The 22-year-old was shot down on his third mission and was buried at the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium along with 5,317 other Americans, most of them fallen airmen.

Retired Belgium Colonel Fernand Gérard contacted the Cadillac News in 2017 to help him find Pickel's living relatives. He wanted them to know that Keith was not alone and that his family was taking care of his grave.

"I am the godfather of Keith's grave and we attend each year the Memorial Day ceremony," Gérard wrote. "For me, it is very important to honor Keith and all the American soldiers who died in Belgium and in Europe during World War I and World War II.  They brought us freedom."

Each year since then Gérard sends photos from the Memorial Day ceremonies. This year, in keeping with precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries were closed. So instead, he sent a photo taken from his home in Ans, where he prepared to watch the livestream Memorial Day Ceremony to honor the World War II veterans.

In 2017, Kris Kay (Jerry Lowe) Sundberg, a 1968 Cadillac graduate who lives in Arizona, received an email from Gérard informing her that he was taking care of her Uncle Keith's grave.

"This warms my heart to know there are people that still appreciate what the United States and Canada did in World War II to free people from the Germans," Kay said in a 2017 Cadillac News interview.

"For the first time we commemorate at home the American soldiers who died for our freedom," Gérard wrote. "I am ready to follow the virtual ceremony. We are very grateful for Keith's sacrifice and he will forever live in our hearts."

His grandson, Charles Demoulin, 16, also watched the online ceremony. He's been helping to care for Keith's grave since he was nine-years-old.

Cadillac News