Updated: 11/25/08 10:02 AM
Death frees WWII vet after 62 years of mental torment
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
Before Edward F. Kielich marched off to some of the bloodiest fighting in World War II, he was like a father to his little sister, Peggy, reading her comic books and making up voices for the different characters.
He was the father she never knew.
When Kielich returned home from the war, he was silent and continually paced the floors of the family’s South Buffalo home. The young sister wondered: “Where’s my brother?”
He ended up spending 62 years in a Department of Veterans Affairs nursing home, his mind devastated by the horror of a war that psychologically impacted two of his other brothers as well. But Kielich’s family says he is finally free. The 86-year-old Army veteran died Nov. 16 in the Canandaigua facility.
Edward Kielich and his brother Gene had participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy at Omaha Beach, which became known as “Bloody Omaha” because of the high number of casualties.
A third brother, Henry, flew in more than 60 missions above Poland and Germany, and a fourth brother came within a whisker of serving in World War II, had it not been for their mother’s fierce intervention.
After fighting his way into France, Edward Kielich became an anti-aircraft gunner and continued fighting all the way into Germany. He never suffered a scratch from enemy fire, but the carnage he witnessed devastated his mind.
Except for a few months at home in 1946, he would spend the rest of his life — and it was a long one — in the VA nursing home.
“I couldn’t believe they sent him home. I was 12 years old and wondered where’s my brother. He just didn’t talk to anyone and he paced the floor. Back then, my mother referred to it as shell shock,” Peggy Chapin said of what is now known as post traumatic stress.
The youngest of 11 brothers and sisters, Chapin, an Elma resident, said her father, John, a well known South Buffalo barber, had died six weeks after she was born in 1934 and her mother went out to work at a chemical factory.
But that was not enough and in time Ann Kielich was forced to pull her older children out of high school so that they could work and help support the family.
Edward Kielich was among the bread winners.
“I looked forward to Edward coming home from work. He’d put me up on his lap and would read comic books. There was a lot of laughter and joy,” she said.
In 1943, the laughter ended.
Edward Kielich was drafted into the Army. Gene Kielich would also be drafted into the Army. Henry Kielich enlisted in the Air Force. Paul Kielich, 16 at the time, also wanted to serve like his older brothers and enlisted unbeknown to his mother.
“My mother went down to the enlistment center and said ‘My God, you already have three of my sons and this son is just a child. He’s only 16.’ She got him out of the Army,” said Chapin, 74.
All three brothers who served in the war, the sister said, were never the same, though Gene and Henry managed to carve out lives for themselves.
“None of them were right, they all suffered terribly for what they saw and did for this country. That’s why we’re all able to have the freedom we have today. They fought for this country that they loved,” she said.
And now with Edward’s passing, all three are gone.
But, Chapin says she feels a need to share with others just how much Edward sacrificed for others.
He spent some 62 years in the nursing facility at the Canandaigua VA, but his family never forgot him. Every week or couple of weeks someone visited him.
He smoked cigarettes incessantly, until the VA adopted a no-smoking policy and he was weaned off tobacco.
In later years, he managed to utter a word or two and on one special occasion, he said, “I miss Mom.” Other times, he communicated by facial expression or a squeeze of the hand.
“He always held my hand and when I’d squeeze, he’d squeeze back. When I arrived at the hospital, he would smile. He always had a smile for me,” Chapin said, pausing to weep over her brother’s lost life.
Chapin says that it was her family’s solemn duty to make sure Edward got the care he needed and that they fought with the government until it finally realized its mistake and agreed to provide him with care.
She wishes she had visited more often but said that when she married and started raising a family, she could only travel to the Finger Lakes facility once a month.
But this past year, Edward’s heart started to give out and she began visiting once a week, sometimes twice.
“He was there when we needed him. He always sent his money home from the Army,” she said. “That’s why I loved taking care of my brother Edward because he took care of me.”
Some time next month, Edward Kielich will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
His sister says it is a fitting place for her brother, who suffered more than six decades.
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