Imagine, it's 1944 and the country is smack-dab in the middle of World War II. You are serving in the U.S. Navy and come across a new guy… and his last name is Hitler.
That would be jarring, right? Well, it likely happened, since Adolf Hitler's nephew served in the Navy from 1944 to 1947, after begging the president to let him in.
William Patrick Hitler was a sailor during the war against Nazi Germany, fighting against his own family, something he spent years trying to achieve.
William Patrick Hitler was born in England as the first son of Adolf Hitler's brother, Alois. He lived there with his mother after his father left to travel Europe when he was 3 years old. Alois returned to Germany and remarried, and eventually sent for William after he turned 18.
During his visit to Germany in 1929, William met his Uncle Adolf at a Nazi rally his father took him to, and in 1930 received an autographed photo of him at another rally.
However, after William returned to England, he wrote a series of articles on his uncle's rise to power that were apparently deemed "unflattering" by the future dictator. Adolf Hitler called his nephew to Berlin and demand he retract his words, threatening to kill himself if William wrote anything else about him.
Back in England, it was clear William had also made himself famous with the articles, and a very unpopular person in England. No one wanted to hire a Hitler, and it was because of the lack of work that William Patrick returned to Germany, where he hoped his name might be accepted more easily.
Unfortunately for William, he wasn't wanted in Germany either. His uncle denied any family ties and his father sent him back to England.
With no other options, William gathered any evidence of a blood relation to his uncle—who was now Reich chancellor, the chief executive of Germany—he could find and returned to Germany, hoping to blackmail Hitler into giving him a job.
It worked. Hitler approved a work permit for William, who found a job at a Berlin bank and later an automobile factory. However, after a relatively calm first year, William was abruptly fired, then after insufficient reasoning as to why, was rehired, but felt increased scrutiny.
"I could not even go on an outing without risking a summons to Hitler," he wrote in an article for "Look" magazine. After an intense and frightening meeting with his uncle, William knew it was time to leave the country.
Looking to serve
Back in England, William's surname continued to haunt him, when he was denied entry in to the British armed forces due to his relation to Adolf Hitler.
Willing to share his knowledge of his uncle, William and his mother were invited on a lecture circuit in 1939 by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaperman in the United States. During their time the States, war broke out in Europe due to Hitler's rise and reach, which prevented William and his mother from returning overseas.
William Hitler points to Berlin. | Wikimedia Commons
Knowing his options were limited, William tried once again to join a foreign military in opposition of his uncle, and was once again denied, based on his name.
In a pleading letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, William wrote, "I am one of many, but can render service to this great cause." After being cleared by the FBI, William Patrick Adolf was authorized to serve in the U.S. Navy, swearing in on March 6, 1944.
William served as a Pharmacist Mate during his years in the service, earning a Purple Heart, and was discharged in 1947. After the military, he changed his last name to Stuart-Houston, married Phyllis Jean-Jacques and went on to have four children before dying on July 14, 1987.
Was William simply looking for an opportunity wherever he could find it? Historians disagree on the motivations for William's decisions, with some pointing out he was okay with his uncle's policies if the economic climate had been to his benefit. Others point out that he could have lived and survived in the U.S. without joining the military, a decision that would suggest a clear conviction against his relative's agenda.
William had four sons, all of whom never had children, meaning the last of Adolf Hitler's paternal bloodline will end with them.