Duffel bag returned to WWII soldier, 68 years later
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com January 8, 2013 3:28PM
Arleen Haas of Crown Point (center) smiles as her grandfather William Kadar opens a package from France with his Army duffel at his home in Merrillville, Ind. Tuesday January 8, 2012. The duffel bag that Kadar, an Army Tech Sgt. of Company A 36th Infantry Division 143rd Regiment, left in France during the war was returned to him Tuesday. A teenage boy in France found it at his grandparents home where it had been safely kept since the war. At left videotaping is Amy Parsons of Valparaiso, also Kadar's granddaughter. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 10, 2013 5:59PM
William Kadar wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about when his granddaughter, Arleen Haas, handed him a carefully wrapped package Tuesday morning.
But once he read the letter inside — thanking him for his Army service in France during World War II — and noticed the drab green material underneath, he found his Army-issue duffel bag folded up.
He ran his hands over the stenciled black print, listing his name and serial number, and tried to recall when he separated from the bag in November 1944 — more than 68 years ago.
“You know I don’t remember this,” said Kadar, 92, of Merrillville. “It’s still in good shape. Oooh, boy. Well, I finally got it.”
The bag was empty, however, having been cleaned out years ago.
Duffel bags held much of a soldier’s gear, such as clothes and boots, so they were too heavy to take into battle. Soldiers typically grabbed what they needed. But somehow Kadar’s bag got lost in the commotion.
Kadar grew up in Gary, and he was drafted into the Army in October 1941. He went to Arkansas for noncommissioned officer training, becoming a technical sergeant, and he was sent overseas in September 1944 as a member of the 36th Division, Company A, 143rd Regiment.
Haas said the bag was found and kept by a family in Rehaupal, France until a 16-year-old boy found it in his grandfather’s house. Haas said the boy’s great-great grandparents were killed when their house was bombed by the Germans, so the boy’s grandfather — who was 10 at the time — was scarred by his memories as a civilian in wartime.
At first the boy was reluctant to return the bag since it was a symbol of his family’s history. But he returned the bag, and the family hopes to Skype with him soon.
“It’s given us a deeper understanding of what he and others went through,” said Kadar’s granddaughter, Amy Parsons of Valparaiso. “We don’t have that perspective in the U.S. as much. (Kadar) always said, ‘It’s a miracle I came home.’ ”
Kadar was captured by the Germans in December 1944 in Mittelwihr, France, and forced to march in the dead of winter to a prisoner-of-war camp, where he was liberated by Gen. George Patton’s Army in April 1945. But the experience was harrowing, with Kadar losing close to 80 pounds. Kadar’s daughter, Lynn Sattler, said he had to drink special shakes to start putting weight back on before coming back to the U.S., so he wouldn’t scare people with how thin he’d gotten.
Kadar never opened up to his wife and five children about his experiences; it was only when his 16 grandchildren came along that he started regaling them with tales of the war.
Haas served 10 years in the Army, and she got to retrace her grandfather’s footsteps while stationed in Germany. Haas collected the travels in a scrapbook for Kadar. Back in the states, she wanted more information on Kadar’s war experience and tried to connect him with fellow veterans in his unit. Haas tried to find a fellow officer that Kadar remember, but the man died recently before the two were able to meet. She put Kadar’s name and service information on a military forum, and someone contacted the family about the duffel bag.
“(The boy’s) uncle, Herve, contacted the Texas Military Museum first,” Haas said. “A woman there, Lisa, found me through a website, Yuku. We had both used the website to post information regarding veterans. I had posted trying to find information on his unit and find other veterans who may know my grandpa. She saw this and connected me with the French family.”
Kadar’s daughter, Lynn Sattler, said the experience left her with a mixture of emotions.
“I’m amazed it’s been found, grateful that it was sent back to him, and bittersweet because he doesn’t remember (the war), but parts of it do come back,” Sattler said.