Wartime memories preserved and shared

Some stories have a way of flowing into one another.

When I started writing a Memorial Day weekend story about D-Day casualty Peter Pokrifcsak of Martins Creek, I contacted Katherine DiFebo, also of Martins Creek, to show me his grave at the Church Hill Cemetery. She's an officer in the cemetery association.

Once I started talking to DiFebo, I realized I also needed to write about her brother, Arthur Haring, who was buried there, too. Haring, a childhood friend of Pokrifcsak and a fellow enlistee in the Army Air Corps, survived 49 combat missions in the war only to die in a car accident less than a year after he returned home. DiFebo gave me a big envelope full of her brother's letters and photos to help me tell his story.

When I returned those items this week, we got to talking about the Lehigh Portland Cement explosion that killed 31 men in Sandts Eddy in 1942. I left with another envelope full of clippings, resulting in a conversation with cement historian Ed Pany and a story that ran Thursday.

Well, here's another spinoff.

Among the people who responded to my column about Peter Pokrifcsak was the daughter of Pokrifcsak's girlfriend at the time, Ellen Kroboth. I ran an excerpt from a letter Kroboth had written to an Army chaplain, seeking more information about Peter's death.

Cindy Eberts of Sellersville sent me a very touching email, which I'll share with you now.

"I wanted to contact you to let you know how much of an impact the above article had on me," she wrote. "When I saw the article on Saturday and started to read it, I recognized Peter's name; I had even more of a shock as I read further.

"You see, I am the daughter of Ellen Kroboth, Peter's girlfriend, whom you quoted in the article. Never could I have imagined reading about a part of my mom's past in the newspaper! I learned about their relationship from an older cousin, whose mother was my mom's sister-in-law and also a classmate from Nazareth High School and was familiar with the situation. Apparently Peter and my mom were close to getting engaged when he died so tragically.

"The belief was that his plane had been shot down, as Bill Beigel [the military researcher who unearthed the actual details of Peter's death] mentioned. Sadly, my mom never spoke of him to me, and I never told her that I knew about him. Then, 20 years ago, after my mom's sudden death from a heart attack, I was cleaning out her bedroom closet and found a box filled with items related to Peter: pictures (including a whole album), his bombardier wings and one of his dog tags. The fact that she had kept these things until the day she died, even though she had been married to my dad for almost 50 years, told me so much about how she must have felt about Peter. Somehow I could not bring myself to part with the contents of the box, and I still have them.

"I have shared them with my adult daughter and son, and I emailed them the link to your article."

"My main reason for contacting you is to ask if you would share my name, email address, and phone number with Catherine Pokrifcsak, Peter's sister. If she is interested, I would be happy to talk to her about Pete and Ellen, and would be willing to travel to share the memorabilia with her."

That meeting took place Thursday morning at Catherine's apartment in Wilson, and they were kind enough to let me join them. Cindy Eberts was accompanied by her husband, Bill.

Joseph, the only surviving Pokrifcsak brother, lives in Forks Township but was not able to attend. Cindy left the box behind so he can come see it later.

Catherine was delighted with what she saw. The photos included a great shot of Peter and Ellen together, and there was a handwritten note he sent her from Army Air Corps training that said, "Write but don't mail letters until you hear from me," presumably because his unit was on the move. In addition to the items Cindy mentioned in her email, he also sent her his training schedule and a handkerchief stamped Army Air Force Sweetheart, among other things.

Cindy's father, Victor Dlugos, grew up right around the corner from Ellen in Nazareth and was part of the pre-war group of friends that included Peter and Ellen. Catherine said they all used to attend dances together at the Lincoln Hotel in Bethlehem Township, which probably was how Peter — who attended Easton High School — and Ellen met.

Victor, an Army artilleryman in the South Pacific, returned from the war and married Ellen in 1946. Cindy brought along their wedding photo. Ellen made her beautiful gown from a silk parachute that Victor brought home from the war.

I love the way Ellen's story offers still another side of war, the way life must go on for the survivors. In the wake of her grief, she was lucky enough to find someone she could build a different life with, including a daughter whose love for her father didn't keep her from recognizing that this box in the back of the closet represented something very important to her mother.

Sweet, painful memories.

bill.white@mcall.com 610-820-6105

Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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