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Josef F. Bikle

March 23, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Josef "Chris" and Nancy Bikle are shown in this 60th wedding anniversary photograph taken in 2006.
Submitted photo

BOONSBORO, Md. —
Josef “Chris” Bikle was just waiting for a nice spring day so he could sit on the porch of his Boonsboro home with his daughter-in-law, Lisha Bikle.

Even though he had been living at the Village at Robinwood for about three years, his family kept his home so he could return to it and reconnect to his roots. He and his wife of 62 years, Nancy, had lived there since 1965.

After her death in 2009 and after Joe had fallen at home, the move was necessary.

Joe was of the generation shaped by growing up in the Depression years, working with the family fruit business and serving his country during World War II.

As typical of veterans of his era, he rarely talked about his war experiences, that is until a trip to France with two buddies — Ken Wade and Frank Lum — after the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Joe was about 80 at the time and was especially touched by the military cemetery at Normandy.

The library at Normandy was proof that one of his comrades who had been shot had died, providing closure after 60 years for Joe, said youngest son Thomas “Tom” Bikle of Boonsboro.

The trip triggered a flood of memories that he began sharing. Several years after that trip, he participated in the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress, sharing his memories on videotape and allowing the documents and memorabilia in his scrapbooks to be copied.

“He saw a lot of suffering and lost a lot of friends,” said oldest son Mark Bikle of Boonsboro. “Until 10 to 15 years ago, he didn’t talk to us about his war experiences. I think time eventually healed the wounds.”

Joe joined the U.S. Army in September 1942 and was discharged in November 1945. A member of the 1st Infantry Division, he participated in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and saw combat duty in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Czechoslovakia.

Joe earned numerous honors and awards for his service.

“His job for much of the war was in reconnaissance and intelligence,” Mark said. “He was in the forefront, a forward observer, in harm’s way.”

“He shouldn’t have come back. God wasn’t finished with his story,” said Marie Bikle, Mark’s wife.

A trip with residents of the Village at Robinwood to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with his sons almost three years ago was a highlight.

Known as Joe by his American Legion friends and around town and as Chris by his wife and church friends, he also answered to Josef, Dad, Pop, Poppy Bikle or Mr. Bikle.

“He answered to all of them. All of the names were somewhat interchangeable,” said Mark, noting that Chris and Joe were the most commonly used.

Mark added that his father’s father was named Christian, so people just referred to Josef as Chris.

Chris grew up in the Greensburg area near Smithsburg on the family’s orchard, the youngest of two sons. Their apples were shipped to cities such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and sold locally.

Joe recalled selling produce, mostly apples, in front of Hagerstown City Hall before the Bikles had a stand at the Hagerstown City Market. Once at City Market, they also did a booming business in penny candy and providing paper products for the market vendors.

During the height of the Depression, they also sold apples at the Hagerstown railroad yards since there were a lot of railroad workers there. The Bikles eventually opened a store, Bikle’s Fruit and Groceries, on East Washington Street in Hagerstown.

Joe walked more than a mile to the four-room Greensburg School, as well as to the old Smithsburg School, from which he graduated. He played soccer and was a sprinter and high jumper on the track team.

After earning his high school diploma in 1936, he graduated from Eastern University’s Maryland School of Accounting in Baltimore. Always thrifty, Joe lived in a boarding house in Baltimore, worked part time at an appliance shop and would have lunch at a bar, where he could buy a nickel beer and then eat the free snacks on the counter.

“Dad was very frugal and economical out of necessity,” Mark said.

From there, he served overseas in World War II. Upon his return home, he went on a blind date with Nancy Bast of Boonsboro, arranged by one of his friends in Smithsburg.

She was training as a nurse at Washington County Hospital and their first date was at a Chinese restaurant in Hagerstown, which kept late hours to accommodate the different hospital shifts. The couple hit it off and continued to date, marrying on March 25, 1946.

Joe moved to Boonsboro with Nancy, whose father and uncle co-owned Bast Funeral Home and Bast Furniture Store. Joe continued to work at his family’s fruit store, as well as for the funeral home and furniture store, for not quite a decade.

He sold and worked on furniture and worked funerals. He would drive the bodies to the funeral home in an ambulance, in the days before hearses, Tom said. 

“When you work in a family business, you’ve got to cover every angle,” Mark said.

Joe later worked as a field auditor with the state of Maryland’s Department of Employment Security, retiring in 1978 after more than 25 years.

“He enjoyed a long and healthy retirement,” said Mark, who added that his father was their “go-to person” when it came to questions when filling out income tax returns. Joe occasionally helped Tom out with auctions at Cochran Auctioneers & Associates.

While employed by the state, Joe worked with Joe Donovan, who later would become his pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Boonsboro.

“If he asked Dad to critique his sermon, he knew Dad would be forthright,” Mark said.

Joe was an active member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Smithsburg as a youth, developing a love for music when he sang in the choir. He took piano and organ lessons as a teenager and would play at the church, and at times, played a field organ when services were conducted during WWII. 

After marrying Nancy, he became a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Boonsboro, where he sang with the choir and was a church council member, among other things.

“Mom and Dad were both very dedicated church folks,” Mark said.

While the Bikles were raising their sons, they stretched their resources so the boys “never wanted for anything,” Mark said.

For vacations, the family usually traveled to Ocean City, Md., “on a shoestring,” staying in the same apartment each time. They were treated to one meal out, with the rest of their meals fixed in the apartment by Nancy.

Scouting also was a tradition in the family, with Joe going to Sinoquipe and on Skyline Drive trips and helping transport boys. Both grandsons, Matt Bikle of Hagerstown and Josh Bikle of Boonsboro, are Eagle Scouts.

The Village at Robinwood provided a new social network for Joe.

“He developed a lot of good friends,” Mark said. “Dad was a social person. He liked interacting with people.”

In her remarks at the funeral, Marie said her father-in-law was not afraid of technology. 

“He might have been 94 calendar years, but he was receptive to society,” Marie said. “Not just the way it was when he was growing up, but accepting of the way things are now.”

Joe checked the stock market online and had his own Facebook page for the past several months. Mark said his father got his first computer 10 to 15 years ago.

“He was more knowledgeable than I,” Mark said. “He was not afraid to embrace new things. He had a digital camera and a cellphone. ... It became a tool.”

With his longevity, there were many opportunities to celebrate milestones. Joe’s 80th and 90th birthdays were celebrated at Pen Mar Park, with usually at least one trip in the summer, except for this past one.

“It was probably his favorite place,” Tom said.

About two weeks ago, Mark said his father started reviewing his life. The day before his death, the family had a good visit with him.

“He lived a good life. He really did,” Mark said.

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Josef F. Bikle, who died March 12 at the age of 94. His obituary was published in the March 14 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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