|Pilot Tribune 30 Aug 2011|
Article by Melissa Rice
(Photo of marker at Ft. Calhoun Cemetery & photo of Anthony & honor guard)
World War II hero gets his welcome home
Memorial honors soldier who died in Battle of the Bulge
Sixty-six years ago, a young Army captain died, alone on a hillside, covering his soldiers’ retreat from the advancing German army.
Like so many who were killed during the Battle of the Bulge, Capt. Anthony Bernard Chapek, 29, would eventually be buried in a military cemetery in Germany.
Mary Lou Hogg never had the chance to know her father. Because he died overseas when she was an infant, she knew only what she was told of him: his heroism and sacrifice; the honors he received posthumously; the anecdotes shared by family members; and her father’s last words, shared in letters written home.
But knowing he had been buried without a “proper” funeral has torn at her for years. Saturday, she took matters in her own hands to properly honor the memory of a fallen hero.
Amongst the quiet graves of the Fort Calhoun Cemetery, an honor guard from the nearby Legion Post stood ready. While Capt. Chapek’s body remains overseas, an engraved stone cross now stands as his memorial.
“Back in those days, thousands of guys died and they couldn’t send their bodies home,” said Hogg. “It was the dead of winter, and they couldn’t bury them either. Finally, a few years after the war, they took the bodies and put them in military cemeteries, but there was no real service. He never really had a funeral of his own.
Hogg said she had traveled to her father’s gravesite in Germany several times, but she wanted a place to remember him.
Chapek’s marker now stands next to her late husband’s grave and where she, herself, will be buried.
The memorial service captured fragments of Chapek’s life: Excerpts from his last letters home, to his mother, his sister; and his wife; a flag-folding ceremony; prayers and a poem.
Chapek was also remembered with a listing of the awards and citations he received; among them, a Purple Heart, the Military Cross, and the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award that can be given to a member of the Army.
Hogg is justifiably proud of her father’s service and awards.
On Dec. 21, 1944, just five days into what would be a nearly six-week-long battle, Capt. Chapek’s company was ordered to defend a hill in Luxembourg.
According to military citations, three fierce morning attacks were all repulsed by Chapek and the men of Company B. Chapek “went amongst his men, cheering and encouraging them and seeing that the wounded were properly cared for.” That afternoon, the Germans attacked again. Faced with insurmountable odds, Chapek ordered his company to withdraw and, although another man told him to leave, Chapek, instead, told the soldier to withdraw.
According to the citations, “The brave captain voluntarily remained behind to cover the withdrawal. His men saw him last as he stood alone, pinning down the enemy with rapid and accurate fire from his carbine.” Chapek would become one of more than 19,000 killed and 80,000 wounded during the conflict, perhaps the bloodiest single battle of the war.
Chapek was remembered by more than just his troops and fellow officers.
More than a year after his death, a letter from Chapek’s friends in Luxembourg was received by his family.
In it, Fred Wallenborne related how Chapek (who stayed with Wallenborne and his family for more than three months) was like a “member of the family.” Often writing letters home in the evening, Chapek shared news and photos of his infant daughter, his wife or his home with Wallenborne.
“…When somebody spoke of Omaha or Nebraska, his eyes became bigger and bigger than anything and then he added, “There’s no place in the world like Nebraska,” wrote Wallenborne.
Wallenborne shared his grief with Chapek’s family, and noted at the close. “He died for his country that he liked so much…You know that your husband is not forgotten in Luxembourg and in our hearts…We are thankful to our liberators ad will never forget our American friends, especially the Captain.”
Chapek’s memorial marker now stands on a hill, far above the Missouri River floodplains. Amid the carefully tended gravesites, accompanied by fluttering flags and the sound of wind and birdsong, Chapek’s life was remembered Saturday. A 21-gun salute provided a fitting tribute to an American hero.
“It’s the homecoming he never had,” said Hogg. “It gives me some place to go to honor him on Memorial Day and Father’s Day and it’s a long-delayed funeral service for him.”
Sixty-five years ago, Wallenbourne wrote to Chapek’s family: “I know that it is sometimes hard to be brave, but we hope that time will heal your sorrow.”
Hogg remembers the father she never met, and sums up what so many military families already know:
“It’s been 66 years and it still hurts.”