Memory of D-Day hero remains undimmed


Spread across my lap rests a tiny, white infant’s dress embroidered with delicate, pale-pink flowers. That dress, now 63 years old, was a present sent to me from 2nd Lt. Marcus “Mutt” Kruke when he was stationed in London in May of 1944.

Mutt was my father’s best friend. Upon learning that I was born, this young soldier (he must have been about 30 years old at the time) went shopping for a baby gift. Perhaps, this symbol of Mutt’s friendship to my parents was purchased from Harrod’s or maybe from Marks & Spencer. I will never know because he was mortally wounded during the Normandy invasion and died three days later on July 9, 1944. Isn’t it odd that my mother, not a saver, kept that dress as have I? All I know is that I can’t discard it.


The story of Mutt grew as I grew older, becoming a legend in my Cincinnati household. He was a hero to my father, not only because of his military courage, but also because he was an impressive athlete (he and my dad were both involved in sports at the JCCA), and more importantly he was simply a fun, outgoing, great guy. Everybody loved Mutt, my dad said.

It is no surprise, then, that when my husband and I recently visited Paris in September and took a day-trip coach tour to Normandy, Mutt was on my mind.

The pleasant bus ride departs Paris at 7 a.m. and transports its passengers along France’s tangle of highways, through the City of Lights itself and along rural roads, flanked with charming stone cottages with lush, front-yard gardens, fields of smoky lavender and patches of smiling sunflowers swaying in the gentle, Autumn breeze, a stark contrast to the once-bloody Normandy beaches, our destination. Suddenly, the clime changes: the sky turns grey and the mild breeze morphs, becoming chilly and starting to bite. We have reached our objective. The cold Atlantic Ocean laps at the sand.

Even the most brilliant World War II movies and the most insightful interviews could never portray for me the sheer madness of the invasion. Only by standing on Utah and Omaha Beaches could I see for myself the daunting 80-to-100-foot bluffs our soldiers had to scale, and only then understanding the impossibility of the assignment. It was obvious that the young men who had the misfortune of being selected for this attack participated in a suicide operation. To venture up these cliffs required enormous courage. To stay alive took luck.

Mutt possessed great courage; what he lacked was luck.

My father told me that Mutt died protecting another soldier whose duty was to install a communication line. Mutt threw his body over his fellow fighter taking the bullets which rained like torrential hail, so that this crucial mission could be accomplished. There is no telling how many soldiers Mutt saved by his heroic act.

Part of the tour includes, of course, a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, a peaceful, contemplative park-like setting, owned and operated by the United States. The perfectly manicured area holds the bodies of 9,387 soldiers who came from the other side of the ocean to liberate Western Europe from the Germans. There is a visitors’ center at the entrance where I inquired if a Lt. Kruke was interred here (as I didn’t know where he was buried). After a few clicks on the computer the French researcher looked up and asked, “Second Lt. Marcus Kruke from O-hee-o?”

My heart thumped because I knew what I had to do. What I must do. What I wanted to do.

The computer print-out read:

Marcus Kruke

Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army

Service # O1325403

117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division

Entered the Service from: Ohio

Died: 9-Jul-44

Buried at: Plot G Row 6 Grave 29

Normandy American Cemetery

Colleville-sur-Mer, France

Awards: Silver Star, Purple Heart

My husband and I followed the directions to Mutt’s grave, passing thousands of marble crosses and a sprinkling of Stars of David, inscribed with common Jewish names: Steinberg, Goldberg, Rosenberg and so on which we read aloud as we ambled by. Along the way I selected a smooth oval stone from a tidy garden bed. When we finally arrived at Mutt’s grave, located on the far side of the cemetery, I solemnly placed the stone on his marker, his Star of David. Tearfully, my husband recited the Kaddish, the ancient prayer for the dead that all Jews know too well. We both cried for a man we never met, but whom we knew. We knew how brave and how kind he was and that he remembered to send a pretty, white dress with pink flowers to his best friend’s newborn baby girl months before he died.

Former Cincinnatian Judy Kaplan is a free lance writer who lives with her husband in St. Louis which is where her children and grandchildren also reside. She recently retired from the Ladue News where she wrote the travel column for 21 years. Mrs. Kaplan also has contributed articles to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Jewish Light. Portions of this story were printed in the American Israelite.