WACO, Texas (KWTX) Jolie Stewart always wanted to know more about her grandfather who died in WWII.
WWII veteran Philip Schnitzius, late grandfather of Jolie Stewart.
There was a picture of Philip Schnitzius on her grandmother's dresser but no one ever talked about him.
After Stewart's grandmother passed she started looking for answers and she found them when she stumbled onto an oral history recording by a group called Witness to War.
It featured a man who served in the 774th Tank Battalion in Germany just like her grandfather and Stewart knew she was close to some answers.
Jolie said, "I saw that video on March 11th, I'll never forget it. Sitting in my office, I was getting ready to leave. Tears were coming down my face and one of the guys walked by and said; Are you okay? I was kind of a blubbering fool for a minute. I just couldn't tell people quick enough in my family."
Jolie had just pulled the first thread, unraveling the mystery of her grandfather's life and death.
She discovered a recorded video interview by a non-profit, telling the story of a man who served in the 774th tank battalion during WWII, just like her grandfather "Big Philip" Schnitzius.
She contacted a woman with the group, named Emily.
Emily Carley is the director of the Atlanta-based Witness to War Foundation.
The non-profit captures the stories of combat veterans.
It turns out the man Jolie was watching was Andrew Carpenter, Emily's grandfather.
"When I realized she was looking for info on the 774th Tank Battalion obviously it peaked my interest," Emily said.
Before Emily returned Jolie's call, she decided to research some documents dealing with the 774th keeping a discerning eye out for Philip Schnitzius' name.
"Imagine my surprise when I start looking through this paperwork and there is his name. It becomes apparent that they served in the same company, Company A of the 774th Tank Battalion," Emily told us.
Jolie recalled Emily's response, "she said in the voice mail, I have some records for your grandfather, he served with mine. At that point I didn't know if Mr. Carpenter was still living and I thought, oh my God am I going to finally learn something about Big Phillip? Is that what's going to happen?"
After years of calls from people hoping to learn about their loved ones, this was a first for Emily, a direct connection to her own family's history.
Because the unit was so small, finding more information about the 774th was a long shot.
But the puzzle pieces kept falling into place, one of those being a soldier named William O. Klug, someone Andrew Carpenter mentioned in his interview.
They were in Germany in 1945 and Carpenter was supposed to head out on another mission, but Klug had just returned to the unit and fate stepped in.
In his Witness to War interview Carpenter said, "well you never know what destiny may turn out to be, but about that time a guy walks up and said, never mind. Here's Klug, I remember his name so well, and he is a platoon sergeant. We'll send him. He never did come back".
So William Klug commanded that tank in place of Carpenter and he continued the push through Germany.
"On the 16th of March 1945 Klug's tank was hit in combat and William Klug was killed," Emily told us.
And Philip Schnitzius was on that tank too.
Emily said, "at this point I'm watching the full interview and realizing that I not only had paperwork about Jolie's grandfather Philip, that not only did I know where he had gone in the war, not only did I have record of when he was killed, but that he was killed with William Klug who took the place of my grandfather in that tank."
"That's when she told me her grandfather was supposed to be my grandfather's tank commander on the day he was killed. We were just dumbfounded," Jolie said.
Emily told us, "knowing that I was able to tell Jolie that my grandfather should have actually been the one with her grandfather when he was killed was not even something I can put into words."
If words can't explain it, then maybe an image can: an image of a young girl looking at a picture of brave soldier whose blood courses through her own veins.
She was a girl with questions and now a woman with answers.
"So it was all meant to be," Jolie said, "I feel like big Philip and Mr. Carpenter had something to do with bringing us together and I'm so thankful for that. I'm thankful that Mr. Carpenter shared his story and I'm thankful to Witness to War. What an amazing organization, I owe them as much as I owe Mr. Carpenter.
The whole experience created a rare bond
Emily said, "we are connected in a way that my people can't understand. I think the broader impact of this experience has been to show what Witness to War is capable of."
We've all seen the oceans of faces in old pictures: apple cheeked boys made to be men, young women with hope in their eyes and steel in their spines, echoes of the past that call to our American hearts.
Jolie is grateful she answered.
"It's really important to me to not let him fade into history. I don't want him to be a face among many that are in all the old war footage. I hate to look at those pictures because that all look just like people but to somebody they are special. I never want him to be that, I want him to be special. He is for sure," she said.