Father, son reunite after 48 years
Robert Backert (center), fire prevention inspector with the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim\'s fire department, was presented a U.S. Army Europe Certificate of Achievement by Lt. Col. Jeffrey Fletcher, commander, USAG Mannheim (right), March 31 for his heroic action in saving the life of an injured Soldier during a motorcyclist accident in 2006. As first responder on scene, Backert took charge of the incident and provided medical care. For his heroic action, Backert's name was nominated for the 2006 Department of Defense Fire and Emergency Services Heroism Award and was selected runner-up. The award presentation took place while his father Jackson Croker (left) came for a ten-day visit to meet his son for the first time after 48 years.

MANNHEIM, Germany -- James Robert Backert never got to know his American father, but thanks to technology and the support of a close friend, father and son were reunited after a 48-year separation.

"My knees were shaking," said Backert, describing his emotions while he awaited the arrival of his biological father at Frankfurt airport in late March.

Backert, a German fire prevention inspector with the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim's Fire Department, immediately recognized his father, Jackson Croker, who brought along his wife, Brenda, one of his sons (Backert's half-brother) and his son's fiancAfAe.

The story started when now retired Sgt. 1st Class Jackson Croker was stationed in NAfA1/4rnberg from 1958 to 1962, where he fell in love with a German woman, Juliane Backert.

In 1960, their son James Robert was born. Shortly after his birth, certain circumstances, particularly military and German legal requirements, caused a separation of Backert's biological parents.

When their son Robert was 3 months old, Croker saw his son for the last time - and it would be another 48 years before he would meet him again.

Because Croker received reassignment orders, he left Germany in 1962.

"When I had to leave, I asked Robert's grandparents to take care of him," Croker said about seeing the Backert family for the last time.

At 18 months old, Backert became a foster child and grew up at his aunt's and uncle's house in NAfA1/4rnberg. From 1964 to 1966, Croker was again stationed in Germany. This time he lived in Munich and tried to get in touch with Backert's grandparents or the aunt and uncle in NAfA1/4rnberg, but, they had moved, and Croker never again had the chance to see or meet his son.

In the States, Croker started a new family. After he retired from the Army in 1980, he settled down in Houma, La., where he and his wife still live today. Together, they have six children - four sons and their nephew and niece, whom they raised as their own children.

Up to this point, only Croker's wife knew about the son from the former relationship in Germany. While Backert grew up with his foster parents, he realized a difference in his last name and became interested in his parentage. Because he did not want to hurt his foster parents' feelings, he waited a long time until he first started to search for his parents.

He realized that his mother died early, but his father was still alive in the United States.

Finally, at the age of 48, married to his wife, Ingrid, and themselves adoptive parents of an 11-year-old boy, Mike, he found Croker with the help and support of a friend through Internet research.

When Backert's friend called to tell him that his father had been found, he realized a long journey of uncertainty and searching had come to an end.

"I knew that there is no way back. They found my father and I was close to getting to know him," Backert said. "I picked up the sticky (note) with the contact information and went home. I was nervous, and I kept the note in my pocket until 10 o'clock in the evening."

After many years of research and a collection of documents, Backert was prepared with all the details he needed to know about his father.

"I was shocked, but I was really happy," said Croker about the phone call. Croker had been drinking a cup of coffee when his son called. "My wife was wondering what was going on, and when I told her about who was on the phone, she was so happy for me."

On Christmas Day in 2008, Croker proudly presented his son's letter to his children and his family members. They were all happy about their "newfound" brother and wanted to get to know him as soon as possible. Since then, they've been keeping in touch via e-mail or phone calls.

"I have never forgotten about him. Over the years, I was wondering what happened to him, and I expected to hear from him one day," Croker said.

Now, at the age of 70, Croker was finally able to experience the ultimate family reunion.

"Even though I left him at the age of 3 months, I changed his diapers, which means that he is not a stranger to me."

During their 10-day-visit in March, Backert took time to get to know his biological father and the family members who came with him to Germany. They spent most of their time just talking and doing some sightseeing.

"It makes no difference what happened back then," Croker said, "what counts is now." (Editor's note: Ina Stiewitz writes for the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16