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‘This war don’t look like it will ever end’

May 30, 2017 GMT

For 20 years, Marlene Jacobs and her brother, Wayne, purchased Memorial Day flowers to honor their father’s grave at Henri Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Jacobs and her family also made a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage in 1995 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II to the final resting place of 7,992 members of the American military who died in World War II, including her father, Steve Urbanic.For decades before it became a Monday holiday, Memorial Day was observed May 30. For the past several years, the grave of Jacobs’ dad is one of three being cared for at the cemetery by Benedikte Gijsbregs, a Belgian teacher who developed, over the years, a bond with families from Washington County whose loved ones gave their lives to liberate Europe from Nazism.Gijsbregs honors, along with Pvt. First Class Urbanic, Second Lt. James Parker of Bethel Park, whose sister, Jean Parker Mace, lives in Peters Township; and Pvt. Donald Ward, a relative of Debra Smith Ruffing of Washington.“If you’ve never been to a cemetery overseas, they are pristine,” Jacobs said. “They are taken care of very well. That’s why I feel comfortable where he is.“Urbanic worked various jobs, one of which was mining, and he constructed not only a playhouse but the family home in Meadow Lands.Jacobs was a mere child when her father went off to war, but she has photocopies of two letters her father sent from Germany to his sister in Detroit, Mich.He must have been on the move for quite a while, because Urbanic began his Jan. 6, 1945, letter, “Well, Sis, every letter I write to you, it’s from somewhere else, so now, Sis, I am somewhere in Germany. It’s not so bad yet, but I am looking for the worst yet. I am alright so far and that is the way I want to stay. I can’t tell you where I was or what I seen so you see I just can’t write very much.“He hadn’t received any mail since he left the United States on a trip across the Atlantic that was rife with seasickness, and an otherworldliness prevailed once Urbanic arrived in Europe.“Things are so different here that it makes me feel like I am dreaming. All the things I read in books, I see for myself,” he continued.History tells us that the Allies began fighting on German soil in October 1944 with the Battle of Aachen.World War II-era letters were known as “V (for victory) mail” and they were subjected to censorship. Locations couldn’t, therefore, be precise.In a Feb. 22, 1945, letter, Urbanic described himself as “very lonesome for the kids and wife. I guess it will be a long time before I come home. This war don’t look like it will ever end. Well, Sis, I bet they got the war over in the states but here it is still going on very much.“He had previously asked the folks at home to send him cigarettes, but by this point, he had more smokes than he had hairs on his head.So what could those stateside send that would remind a soldier of home?“All I crave for is some good chocolate candy,” he wrote. He had no idea when he penned V-mail on Feb. 22 that he had less than a month to live.Urbanic suffered a gunshot wound and died while hospitalized March 18, 1945.Jacobs, 81, of South Strabane Township, recollected her father.“I think I was daddy’s little girl,” she said. “When I would fight with my cousin, he would always take my side. He built me a playhouse before he left.“Urbanic never had a chance to say a final goodbye to his family, but they were in his thoughts. It’s perhaps some consolation that in his letters, he told his wife and kids “Hello” and asked his sister to tell his wife to write to him.Jacobs said she’s sure her actions were verboten, but she dug up some soil from the family homestead and took it on her 1995 trip overseas.“I sprinkled it around his cross,” she said. “He never came home, so I took it to him.”

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