John Grosskopf

[ Age 90 ] Baltimore veteran was among soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach. But for decades, he rarely spoke of D-Day.

November 08, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

John George Grosskopf, a retired machinist and World War II veteran who landed at Normandy on D-Day and was later decorated for valor, died Nov. 1, his 90th birthday, of complications from an infection at Franklin Square Hospital Center.

Born in Baltimore and raised on North Kenwood Avenue, Mr. Grosskopf was a graduate of Samuel Gompers General Vocational School and was working for General Elevator Co. when he was drafted in 1941.

He was sent to England aboard the Queen Mary as part of the 115th Infantry of the 29th Division, which was to be part of the D-Day invasion.

After his 1945 discharge, Mr. Grosskopf carefully packed his World War II papers and memorabilia in two heavy suitcases -- one black, the other brown -- and stowed them in an upstairs closet of his Jefferson Street home in East Baltimore.

Mr. Grosskopf put the war behind him and returned to civilian life and his old job at General Elevator, where he worked as a machinist until retiring in 1985.

The suitcases he tucked away remained pretty much undisturbed for the next five decades until Mr. Grosskopf moved to an apartment in Perry Hall three years ago.

"He told us, `Don't forget my suitcases,"' said his son, John P. Grosskopf of Kingsville, a retired Baltimore police officer and Army veteran of the Vietnam War.

The elder Mr. Grosskopf didn't speak often about his World War II days in the intervening years, a common experience of combat-hardened veterans.

After accompanying his son to see Saving Private Ryan several years ago, Mr. Grosskopf began telling of his experiences on June 6, 1944, when his unit landed in the late morning on Omaha Beach.

"They had been put aboard a ship several days before the invasion. There was lots of tension, and they could see planes going back and forth. They knew something was coming, but they just didn't know when," said Sharon Grosskopf, his daughter-in-law.

"He remembered how seasick many of them got in the landing craft as it headed for the beach and how wide it was when they got there. And then it became a matter of trying to get across the beach and helping the guy next to you," she said.

"He told me, `I remember stepping over body after body after body lying on the beach that day,'" his son said.

The soldiers of the 115th were presented a unit citation for their "continuous stubborn fighting" and for "courage, tenacity, aggressiveness, and extraordinary heroism," that resulted in the liberation of St. Laurent-sur-Mer on June 6.

During the campaign for St. Lo in July 1944, Mr. Grosskopf was shot in the shoulder and was awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor. After recuperating from his wounds, he returned to combat.

One of Mr. Grosskopf's prized possessions that he folded away in one of the suitcases was a copy of The Howler, the 29th Division's daily newspaper, from late 1945.

"We don't have to say good-bye but so long and we will see each other sometime in the states. However, allow us to temporarily say to you so long and to wish you all, all the luck in the world, and may it all be good," the newspaper said in a farewell article.

In 1946, Mr. Grosskopf visited City Hall, where he was presented a certificate of honor by then-Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin.

Mr. Grosskopf kept his decorations, which also included the Combat Infantryman's Badge and Army Distinguished Unit Badge, framed in a shadow box.

"He also had the bullet from his shoulder in there," his daughter-in-law said.

"He was my hero," said his son. "I remember that night in the movie theater after seeing Saving Private Ryan, when people learned that he had fought on D-Day, they came up and thanked him."

Mr. Grosskopf was a member of the American Legion's Parkville post and Disabled American Veterans. He was a Ravens fan and liked working in his yard.

Proud of his German heritage, he enjoyed going to Blob's Park in Jessup and attending Oktoberfest celebrations.

His wife of 41 years, the former Ethel Dillman, died in 1986.

Mr. Grosskopf was a lifetime communicant of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered Saturday.

Also surviving are two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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