World War II vet’s backpack finally makes its way home from Europe
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org November 9, 2012 5:32PM
World War II veteran William Kadar is photographed with his granddaughter Arleen Haas of Crown Point as she holds his service medals, including a Purple Heart, at Kadar's Merrillville, Ind. home Friday November 9, 2012. Kadar was a Tech Sgt. of Company A, 36th Infantry Division, 143rd Regiment and was captured as a POW during the war. Haas recently received word that Kadar's Army duffel bag was found by a boy in his grandfather's house in France. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 11, 2012 6:11AM
The duffel bag is your standard Army-issue drab green canvas model, carried by millions of American soldiers during World War II.
But Merrillville resident Bill Kadar became separated from his trusty sack not long before his unit fought the Germans in November 1944 in Bruyere, France. He was later captured by the Germans and forced to march across France and Germany before his prisoner-of-war camp was liberated in April 1945.
Like many veterans, Kadar kept his memories to himself until his 16 grandchildren started peppering him with questions. His granddaughter Arleen Haas enjoyed piecing together her grandfather’s story, and a chance connection on an online military forum linked Haas with a boy who found the long lost duffel bag in Rehaupal, France.
“I thought I had hit a wall in terms of new discoveries or stories,” Haas said. “After I finally found the soldier he remembered most from during the war in 2007 (a sergeant in his platoon), and discovered he had passed away only a few years earlier, I didn’t think I would find too much more. Then the story of this bag fell from the stars!”
Lost and found
Kadar, who grew up in Gary, remembers misplacing the bag sometime before a battle in Bruyere, France, but he doesn’t recall the exact circumstances. Soldiers typically stuffed the duffel bags with changes of clothes and other items.
“He said that they wouldn’t go into battle with a lot of gear on,” Haas said.
Haas, who served in the U.S. Army for 10 years, had put her grandfather’s name, service number and other details on a military forum a couple of years ago. A woman from Texas reached out to her in June when the duffel bag was found by a 16-year-old boy in his grandfather’s house.
At first, the boy was reluctant to part with it because his grandfather’s previous house was bombed and burned to the ground by the Germans, so he considered the bag part of his family’s history as well. Kadar was shocked to see a picture of the duffel bag after all these years.
“I just kind of blew his mind,” Haas said. “He thought it was comical that the kid wanted to keep something so old.”
But last week, the boy agreed to send the bag to Kadar and the parties will Skype — with an interpreter — once the bag arrives.
Kadar’s daughter Lynn Sattler said every time her mother, Arleen, would ask him questions about the war, he would brush them off saying, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Not until the grandkids were born did he start relating his stories,” Sattler said.
Kadar was drafted into the U.S. Army in October 1941, but he wasn’t sent overseas until September 1944 as a technical sergeant. He received noncommissioned officer training in Arkansas, where he married Arleen and they had their first child, Lynn, in February 1944.
As a member of the 36th Division, Company A, 143rd Regiment, Tech Sgt. Kadar shipped out to Europe, landing in southern France in September 1944. In November 1944, he suffered a serious back injury when the tank he was riding in hit a mine.
“It threw him so far up in the air that he told me as a kid that he thought he was flying up to heaven,” Haas said.
Kadar received a Purple Heart and quickly went back to the front lines. In December 1944, he and his company were taken prisoner in Mittelwihr, France, when a tank hit their building and compromised the Americans’ position.
The soldiers were led on forced marches in excess of 30 miles each day — in freezing temperatures —and some soliders froze to death while they slept. Kadar suffered frostbite and lost a considerable amount of weight from the experience.
The second POW camp he was at was liberated by Gen. George Patton’s Army on April 29, 1945.
Haas and Sattler pulled out an enlarged map of Europe, showing Kadar’s notes of where he’d fought, and was injured, captured and eventually released from a POW camp. It was that map that guided Haas when she and her husband retraced Kadar’s steps while they were stationed in Germany.
She eventually prepared a volume of photographs and anecdotes she had heard from Kadar and sent him the book.
“I think he cried for two days, and so did my mom,” Sattler said.
Kadar was amazed by his granddaughter’s knowledge of his exploits.
“You know more than I remember,” Kadar said.
Haas laughed and replied, “It’s because I wrote them down.”
“He has been a great inspiration for me,” Haas said. “I always would think of him when I was in the military. I was always proud to tell him my achievements. Nothing was too hard for me knowing what he did for our country and knowing what he survived as a POW.”