It was the day after Christmas, 1944, and two soldiers brought a Western Union telegram to George Kinley’s door.
Their brief message was much like thousands of others hand-delivered to homes nationwide that year, expressing “deep regret” a soldier, his father, was killed in combat.
George Kinley was 6 years old at the time.
He would have to wait nearly
70 years, including decades spent searching for answers about Pvt. Fred Kinley’s final days, until another letter would bring answers.
The email’s message: His father was “a hero” whose work on a bazooka team helped the allied forces capture the French town of Seltz in the days leading up to the historic Battle of the Bulge.
“You should be very proud of him,” wrote James Carter, a retired staff sergeant who served in the 313th Infantry alongside his father. “He was truly one of the unsung heroes of the war.”
Kinley and Carter found one another through the American WWII Orphans Network message board.
Carter described his father as a family man they called “Pappy” because, at 38, he was years older than most of his fellow GI’s.
The Summerhill man was part of an anti-tank platoon within the infantry. In charge of firing a bazooka so large that another man had to load it, he was often on the front lines of an assault, Carter wrote.
Fred Kinley was part of an assault that surprised Germans in Seltz the day he died, driving them out of the town.
The Nazis tried to keep attackers at bay by destroying bridges into the town, but they left one crossable – and Kinley was among those who charged it, despite “heavy” enemy fire, Carter wrote.
“The attack was successful,” he added. But Kinley received a fatal neck wound in the process.
He was buried in France, not far from his final battleground, his son said.
But in many ways, the soldier’s memorial lies in his son’s basement.
The younger Kinley has a small den in his Richland Township home that has become an archive for his father.
Photos of his father dressed in uniform are displayed on the wall. Beside them, a rubbing that soldiers made of Kinley’s gravestone in France is framed next to the fallen soldier’s medals.
And George has kept letters to and from his father during his year at war.
He has collected items for years, he said, while holding his father’s draft card.
“I tried for 20 years to find out more about my dad – and how he died. There were times I thought I might never know,” George said.
Sitting next to a stack of letters sent to his father that never reached him, Kinley held out unused postage stamps he said fellow soldiers found in his pocket the day he died.
They were likely meant for a letter to home that the man never got the chance to send, the son said.
The keepsakes fascinate George Kinley. But they did little to answer questions he had about his father’s final days at war, until Carter’s email came about a year ago, he said.
“Every time Christmas came around ... I thought about my dad. I wondered what happened,” George said, saying it left a hole in his heart that was unfilled for decades.
He said he had few vivid memories of his dad, an Allegheny County native who was raised in Portage.
He remembers the day his father left for war, and a week he returned for furlough.
“I remember him waving goodbye on the train,” George said.
But those memories push him to keep searching. He believes there are still stories to be uncovered about his father.
“I’ll never really have closure,” he said. “I keep going because I want to know more.”
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