Old Memories Stirred as Man Searches for Soldiers Who Signed Nazi Flag
DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Michael Gray is too young to remember World War II, but a Nazi flag he bought at a flea market - and his efforts to find the men who captured it - have stirred the memories of several old Army buddies.
Twenty-nine soldiers of the 34th Division 133rd Infantry Company A signed their names and in some cases their addresses on the flag captured in Bologna, Italy, in April 1945.
In the past few years, Gray, a 34-year-old factory worker and history buff, has used veterans’ rosters and long-shot leads to find 12 of the men, bringing some together for the first time since the war. Three others are confirmed dead.
Eddie Ruple, 77, of Yorktown, Va., was among the first to get a call from Gray, and invited him to bring the flag to Ruple’s home.
″I was stunned,″ Ruple said. ″And when I seen my name I remember putting it on that night after it was captured. We were in Bologna and we were having a little party and drinking a little wine and the flag came down and we signed it.″
Roman Hicks, 71, of Eatonton, Ga., and Ben Mitchell, 68, of Sumter, S.C., didn’t know the flag would be there when Ruple invited them to meet with some old Army buddies.
″My jaw dropped,″ Mitchell said. ″We were so surprised and all. It just made chills pop out all over.″
Ruple went to visit Carl Sigler, 73, of St. Helens, Ore., after Gray put them back in touch. They hadn’t seen each other for 45 years.
″Eddie and I were both cooks,″ Sigler said. ″That’s why we were both such good buddies - we ate each other’s food. The week he was out here, we talked solid all the time.″
Hicks said the flag had been hanging on the side of a building out of a window. According to Ruple, a soldier named Barnes - now dead - from Euclid, Ohio, took it down.
In 1987, Gray picked up the 6-by-10-foot flag for $20 in Carlisle, Pa.
″I didn’t think it was possible″ to find the signers, he said. ″The names were over 40 years old and the chances were slim to none at best.″
″I really wish I could find the rest of these guys because these men asked me to,″ Gray said. ″But I really think I’m running out of leads because they won’t open Social Security records and the military didn’t keep track, especially of enlisted men.″
As for the flag, Gray is thinking of giving it to the museum at division headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.
″Even though it’s a Nazi flag, it’s still a piece of history that should be preserved,″ he said. ″So people won’t doubt it ever happened or that it can’t happen again.″