Michael KreponMemorial Day

My Dad was one of five brothers — first generation American citizens whose parents emigrated from Kiev. During World War II, he worked at the Watertown (Massachusetts) Arsenal making munitions. The metallic substances he ingested there most likely caused his kidney cancer, which eventually took his life at age 48. Two of his brothers, Mickey and Alby, served in Europe. Uncle Al was a stenographer attached to General Eisenhower’s headquarters in the United Kingdom. My Uncle Mickey fought his way up the boot in Italy. He died at Anzio.

Uncle Al, the youngest, survived all his brothers. I always suspected that he kept a stash of Mickey’s letters and memorabilia. Since I was named after Mickey, and since I knew almost nothing about him, I kept pestering him to share. Uncle Al wouldn’t budge. Mickey’s death was such a searing experience – he was declared missing in action, and his death wasn’t confirmed for weeks afterward – that Uncle Al just couldn’t reopen this painful chapter. After Al died, his widow found the box of memorabilia, and gave it to me.

Here’s a portion of Mickey’s last “V-MAIL” letter sent to my Uncle Al, dated February 15, 1944. He died in combat the next day:

“There’s nothing much to tell you except that we’ve been in about five major engagements and still going strong. It’s pretty damp and rainy here and quite hard keeping comfortable. (I am, of course, smoking a cigar now.) There is no break for us in sight, as usual. I had a five day leave back in December and had a pretty good time.

“I have been getting a few packages from home and they help to keep the old morale up. That little, dehydrated Boston Herald is pretty good. I received one yesterday. When you write home, tell [Uncle] Lou to write me once in a while.

“So long, Junior, old boy, and take care.

Mick”

Comments

  1. @FHeisbourg (History)

    Those brave Americans who left their family and their friends, crossing the Ocean and risking -and all too often, giving- their life to destroy the Nazi beast have earned the eternal respect of Europe’s free peoples. They will not be forgotten, above and beyond the froth of our day-to-day distractions or differences

  2. Jonathan Thornburg (History)

    Farley Mowat’s “And No Birds Sang” is a brilliant memoir of the Italian campaign, seen “from the trenches”.

  3. Benn Tannenbaum (History)

    Thanks for sharing this. May we never forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.

  4. Alan (History)

    Thanks Michael. There seem to be precious few descriptions of the experiences of those times these days, owing perhaps to the reluctance of many participants to talk about it in any great detail?

    My grandfather never talked about it. He was in bomb disposal and worked his way through many Second World War zones, but mainly North Africa and, like Mickey, Italy. His specific skills resulted in him staying well beyond his tour of duty. When he died around 20 years ago, we discovered a notebook full of his hand drawn bomb disposal diagrams. It’s now a war museum piece.

    Fifteen years after the war, on the other side of the world, his daughter (my aunt) brought home a German boyfriend. He was a fascinating and extremely intelligent man, but was never welcome for, I guess, obvious reasons. It didn’t stop the daughter marrying him though.

    Thirty years later, I learned how he had been a teenager and living in Berlin in 1945 when it fell to the Russians. His grandfather was shot in the head, while lying on the couch in their living room, in front of his family. They buried him in the garden.

    None of my wider family were aware of it, or any of his other wartime experiences. I could listen to him for hours. More recently, in a quite remarkable coincidence, I learned that in 1946 he had stayed with a family in the town in England where I now live, on a “friendship exchange”. I tracked down the family for him and he was able to re-establish contact with his contemporary, now a retired doctor.

    He died earlier this year, shortly after his wife. Their daughter visited the house in Berlin last month, unchanged since the war.

  5. Scott Monje (History)

    My father died when I was young, but I understand that he never talked about his wartime experiences either. I have subsequently discovered that his unit, 1st Ranger Battalion, was virtually exterminated in an attempt to break out of the Anzio beachhead at Cisterna. I’ve read about it in official army histories. Truly bone-chilling.

  6. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    Three of my four great uncles were soldiers, sailors, airmen. Benny was a mechanic in the 8th Air Force. Sam was in Patton’s 3rd (hated him was a passion, I got an earfull when he saw I was reading a text on George.). He saw action in North Africa and France. He marched from Bastogn to Berlin and occupied the American sector of Berlin for almost a year after the war ended. Jack was a CB (Construction Battalion) and improved runways under Japanese fire during the island hopping campaign. He helped re-wire the telephone exchange in Nagasaki two weeks after the bomb fell. He died at the ripe old age of 85, and not from cancer. He helped occupy Japan after the war. Joe was not allowed to enlist as his three brothers were already serving. He spent the war as a policeman guarding the Wright Engine factory in Patterson New Jersey. Joe was the only one of ‘the brothers’ with fond memories of the war. When the uncles came to visit, no violent television, no playing soldier, and no constant nagging for war stories.

    My grandfather and his brother were artful dodgers. Grandpa had his MS begin to effect his training. He was on sick leave and missed Iwo Jima. His unit took very heavy losses. He went on to become a draftsman at North American and worked on the X-15 project as well as others. My workmanship lies right below his at the National Air and Space museum. His brother Carl was a radioman and radar operator who beat up his commanding officer for waking him up after a bender in the Canal Zone while on is way to Corregidor. He was transferred to the radar unit of the Canal Zone and he never left Panama. He was mixed up with the local politics from WWII until the mid 80’s.

    My brother Anthony was a truck driver in the US Army hauling supplies from Kuwait to the Turkish border from 2003 to 2004. He lives a peaceful life today.

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