A lasting tribute, after initial mistake


September 11, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

There's a scene in "Saving Private Ryan" in which the Army captain played by Tom Hanks breaks tragic news to the wrong soldier. It's a name's-the-same mistake, the kind of thing that happens in the chaos of a massive war fought by millions. I made a similar mistake about an Army private in Wednesday's column and need to perform some cleanup before we move on with the rest of the story - and there's a lot more to tell.

According to records, 19 men named Kreiner were among the 288,000 Marylanders who served at home and abroad during World War II.

All of the Kreiners were from Baltimore.

Five of the Kreiners were named John.

Three of them were in the Army.

Two of them were named after their fathers. There was John H. Kreiner Jr., of Homestead Street, in Waverly, and John Kreiner Jr. (no middle initial), of East Street, near Belair Market.

Both John H. Kreiner Jr. and John Kreiner Jr. were in their early 20s.

Both married women named Margaret before going overseas.

Both were privates in infantry divisions involved in the "other D-Day," the August 1944 invasion of southern France.

John H. Kreiner Jr. was wounded in France and came home. He and his wife had two children and were later divorced. He remarried in 1964. He died in Baltimore in 1980.

John Kreiner Jr. did not come home.

He was killed on Sept. 9, 1944, in a meadow outside a little village called Sauvagney. He's buried near there.

With Wednesday's column about John Kreiner Jr.'s death, the photograph of John H. Kreiner Jr. appeared. I regret that mistake. I assumed that The Sun's archival photograph of Pfc. John H. Kreiner Jr. was that of Pvt. John Kreiner Jr.

Truth is, until today, The Sun never had a photograph of the John Kreiner Jr. who died liberating Sauvagney.

His hometown newspaper never reported his death; it was probably lost in the mass of war news reaching the homefront during a time of mounting casualties in Europe.

But certainly the news came to John Kreiner's home on East Street shortly after his death.

His parents were Katherine Ann and John Kreiner. His brothers were Lou and Tom; his one sister was Dorothy.

His father was a poultry butcher who had a stall in Belair Market.

John Kreiner had worked there for years, then took a job building airplanes at Glenn L. Martin Co. He liked to spend money on clothes. "He was good with the girls," says his youngest brother, Tom. "Oh, yeah. He was always with the prettiest ones, and always with a bunch of 'em."

Tom Kreiner, a retired meatcutter, is 67 and lives with his family in Gardenville, Northeast Baltimore.

It was across his kitchen table the other night that memories spilled out - from boxes and albums, old photographs and letters, including the one the Army had sent to Margaret Kreiner, John's young widow, telling of his death in Sauvagney.

Her name is Bowers now. She lives in Frederick County.

So does her daughter, Barbara, who never knew her father.

"I was pregnant when [John Kreiner] died," Margaret Bowers said over the phone yesterday. "We had been married three years. When he died, I got the telegram at my mother's house, and, well, you know how that was. ...I went through it alone. ... I remarried almost right away."

Margaret Bowers never knew much about the circumstances of John Kreiner's death, though the mayor of Sauvagney, Charles Ducret, wrote a letter about it at war's end. The Army had the letter translated and forwarded to the Kreiner family. That letter could not be found this week.

"I don't know much about how he died, either," says Tom Kreiner, "except that a letter to my mother said he died instantly. That I remember."

After the war, the Army moved John Kreiner's body from a churchyard grave in Sauvagney to plot A, row 17, grave 61 in the U.S. military cemetery at Epinal, France.

Four years ago, the residents of Sauvagney erected a monument to their heroes - Kreiner and another American private, Edwin Morgan, of Huntington, W.Va. Both were killed by Germans entrenched across a meadow near the tiny village.

Until this week, Kreiner's relatives did not know of the Sauvagney memorial.

I learned of it from Harry Burch, a Baltimore veteran of World War II who served in Kreiner's division, the "Fightin' 36th."

"I think it's wonderful," Tom Kreiner said when I showed him a photograph of the memorial, a square column by the village's one church.

"Oh, my, isn't that something?" said Margaret Bowers.

"Next year," said Dennis Kreiner, John Kreiner's nephew, "my wife and I will have our 30th anniversary, and we're going to go over there."

"And I'm gonna go with them," declared Lou Kreiner, 78, as he sat in a wheelchair in an apartment in Towson. Lou Kreiner had been in the Army in North Africa and Italy. He did not know of his brother John's death until he got home from the war.

He did not know of the Sauvagney memorial until he read about it the other day.

"I was really surprised to hear of it," he said. "Of course, I was happy for John. There was just a year between us, you know, we were like twins."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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