Charles Herbert Ebright
On January 28, I posted on this site a list of 51 escapees who were helped by Domenico Mancini, an Italian. (See “Domenico Mancini—A Key Italian Assister.”)
According to Allied military records, Domenico Mancini “had helped American and British prisoners in every way possible after their departure from POW camps by giving them food and shelter.”
One name in particular on this list stood out to me—Charles H. Ebright of South Bend, Indiana.
I live in southern Indiana, and South Bend is about 200 miles north of my home.
I searched online for any mention of Charlie, and quickly discovered his obituary on the Palmer Funeral Home—Guisinger Chapel website.
Charlie had passed away just 12 months earlier, in January 2017. Staff at the funeral home kindly put me in touch with Charlie’s niece, Angie Brechtel.
Angie and I exchanged several emails, through which she shared the following memories of Charlie with me:
“I came into Charlie’s family 15 years ago when I married his nephew Craig. Charlie was a fixture then. Everyone said he attached to me because I was a lot like his first love and wife, Viv.
“He did not have children, so we were the only family he had. When he became ill, I stepped in. I saw him several times a week, took care of all his finances, which led to my becoming his power of attorney, healthcare representative, and all that goes with it, for a little over 10 years.
“As his health declined, my visits and responsibilities increased.
“I grew up military, so I am in tune to those who have served. That may have been why Charlie said as much as he did to me. My dad was on a battleship in Korea and an aircraft carrier in Vietnam. I lost friends in Vietnam. I am also huge on military, respect for our flag, honor for our veterans and all the respect that goes with it. I put Charlie’s POW/MIA flag on a pole on one side of his room door with the American flag on the other. I framed his Purple Heart and placed it where anyone could see it as they came in. I thought by having those out in the open he would talk about his experiences—but he never did.
“Craig said that Charlie would not speak about his POW experience. His brother tells me the same. I did not know until last night that I was the only one who knew most of his story, which is still very little.
“He did not talk about the camp at all, or any others who were there. He never spoke of any abuses.
“He was just all matter of fact about it all. He was in Africa, he was a prisoner, someone opened the gate of the camp before the Germans came, he escaped with others and walked with another soldier for a long time, they came upon a farm, worked the farm, slept in the barn, and then someone came and said Allied forces were coming and he could catch up to them and go home.
“And, boom, he was back. He married Viv Brechtel—the love of his life—and all went back to normal, like the past two years never happened. He did not mention any names. He did say he had communication with the family in Italy for a couple of years, but he did not say who they were or even where they lived.
“He was wounded, but he didn’t say how. He walked with a slight limp that over the years became more pronounced, to the point he could not walk at all.
“Before Charlie passed, a member of our local veteran’s group came in to present Charlie with a flag lapel pin, some sort of medal, and a certificate of honor. He also said a prayer and shook his hand.
“I made sure several members of our family were in attendance as well. Hopefully, Charlie was present enough to realize the honor and thanks that was being given to him.
“My stepson has tried to impress his respect for military service on his own children. Since everything military about Charlie means so much to him, I gave him the certificate and medal. I also gave him the flag that was presented to me, along with the bullet casings from the honor guard salute. Having that flag presented to you is an honor, and yet stirs earthshaking grief at the same time—doubly so since that flag was wrapped around someone you loved so much before it was reverently folded and given to you.
“Taps rips my heart out every time I hear it. On base it was played as the flag was lowered each evening. You heard it, you stopped and faced wherever you thought that flag would be, you put your hand over your heart, and did not move until the song had ended.
“Then, as I got older, taps became the final salute for the soldier.
“I wish I had more to offer. What was in his obituary was all there is. I tried to honor Charlie in the best way I could and laid him to rest beside his first love and wife, Viv.
“I like that some of the history has remained and the site of the old POW camp has become a place of peace. We need our history in tact—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“I wish Charlie could have seen your hard work in honoring these soldiers. He would have liked that his name is mentioned on your site.”
Charlie’s obituary was published in the South Bend Tribune on January 12, 2017:
Charles Herbert Ebright
June 25, 1920 – Jan. 7, 2017
SOUTH BEND – Charles Herbert Ebright, 96, passed this life on January 7, 2017. He was born in South Bend, IN on June 25, 1920, to Frank and Augusta (Hinz) Ebright. After graduating in 1939 from Central High School, he majored in business at the South Bend Commercial College. Before he could graduate, he was inducted into the Army on January 31, 1942 as a PFC in the 8th Infantry Training.
After training, he was sent as part of the first wave in the WWII battle for Tunis, Tunisia, Africa. In a foxhole, Charlie was wounded and carried a piece of shrapnel in his thigh the rest of his life. Wounded soldiers were removed to the rear lines and treated. He and other “walking wounded” were reassigned to take bed rolls and supplies to the troops in the front lines but had no weapons. Not knowing their troops had fallen back they walked into a German camp. Captured, the Germans turned them over to an Italian Army Prisoner of War Camp outside of Monfalcone [Montefalcone Appennino], Italy where they stayed for 10 months. Though a POW, all Allied Prisoners in the custody of the Italians were treated well.
When Italy surrendered to the Germans in September 1943, the Italians opened the prison gates and told the soldiers to scatter before the Germans invaded. Charlie came across a woman who offered him food and shelter with her family. For 8 months he worked in their fields and helped out where he could. In 1944, the family connected him with the British Army, who returned him to the U.S. Army in Oran, North Africa. Once there, he was shipped back to Boston, given a 21-day leave, where he came home and married his sweetheart, Vivian Brechtel. Before his discharge in October 5, 1945, he was an honor guard for the funeral of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For his service, he received EAMETO ribbons, WWII Bronze Battle Star, Good Conduct Medal, and a Purple Heart Medal.
After his discharge, Charlie worked at the U.S. Post Office, Singer Sewing Machine Company, then Wheelabrator-Frye. When Wheelabrator closed their doors, Charlie retired. He was a member of St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ. Vivian predeceased him in 1981. He remarried in 1995 to Dorothy Wilson, who predeceased him in 1998. There were no children through either marriage.
Charlie has been a resident of Southfield Village in South Bend, IN since 2007, where he participated in talent shows, the Kazoo Band, WII Bowling League, Bingo caller, a member of the Resident Council, and assistant to anyone who needed help. He was also the “Class Clown and Teacher’s Pet” among the staff. Charlie’s love for the Cubs was evident by his Cubs hat and jacket and memorabilia in his room. He was able to watch their World Series win—his life-long wish.
Though he did not have children, he leaves behind nephews and niece, Paul Brechtel and Craig and Angie Brechtel. He was a “bonus grandfather” to Craig R. Brechtel (Christina), Cari Sanders (Kyle), and Jennafer Higgins (Pat). He has friends and extended family too many to mention and was loved and honored by all.
A memorial service will be held at Southfield Village, 6450 Miami Circle, South Bend, IN on Saturday, January 14, at 1:00 pm. In lieu of flowers and in honor for Charlie’s service, donations to the Semper Fi Fund will be appreciated. Their information can be found on their website: semperfifund.org.
Palmer Funeral Home–Guisinger Chapel and Southlawn Cremation Services is assisting the family with arrangements. Online condolences may be left for the family at palmerfuneralhomes.com.