Soldiers' wartime gifts to French family recalled

December 06, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

HUSTONTOWN - Little did Benjamin Lane know that a small kindness he and his buddy showed to a French family in the middle of a war would be remembered 58 years later.

Lane, 78, of Hustontown, and his buddy, Alfred Endres, 84, of Lodi, Wis., were in the 35th Infantry Division on its way to fight in the World War II Battle of the Bulge.

"We stopped in the town of Metz on the French-German border. There was a bathhouse and it was open," Lane said.


It was Christmas Eve, 1944.

He and Endres went in to take a bath and met Charles Dewald, the operator of the bathhouse.

"He told us it was Christmas and he had nothing to give to his children," Lane said.

"We went around the unit and asked the guys for candy and fruit, which we gave to the man for his kids. He started to cry and said he would see us when we came back from the fighting."

When the two returned to the town, Dewald gave Lane some coins and a medallion in honor of the first cross-Atlantic flight of the German dirigible Hindenberg in May 1936. (A year later on May 6, 1937, the airship blew up in Lakehurst, N.J., killing 36 people.)

He said he keeps them in a bank vault. "They're treasures," he said.

Endres' wife died last year. His family went through some belongings and came across a book about their father's unit. He had written the names of 10 buddies on the back.

Endres' daughter, Louise Endres Moore, said from her home in Wisconsin Thursday that she tried to locate the 10 men over the Internet. The only one she found was Lane. "He had never moved," she said.

When she called Lane he told her about the incident with Dewald.

She learned through the Internet that Dewald had come to the United States on a swim team. She found his name through a hall of fame group for French swimmers. Charles Dewald died in 1985, but his son, Roland, now 71, is living.

Moore and Dewald exchanged letters. In his letter Dewald wrote, "I truly thank you for your kindness."

Endres never spoke about his war experiences to his family, Moore said. In July he received a belated Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge.

"He wouldn't even look at it," she said. "He said no one deserves a medal for killing people. He was a machine-gunner."

Moore decided to send Lane and her father a basket of candy and fruit in honor of what they did for the Dewald children.

The infirmities of age have caught up with both men. Endres is in a nursing home and Lane is on a respirator.

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