By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — World War II veteran Henry Kroll sat in his chair staring at his long awaited service medals with pride 70 years after he should’ve received them for serving in the U.S. Army 106th Infantry Division.
The ceremony, held at Beaumont Commons, 16351 Rotunda Drive where Kroll lives, made his medal dreams official when he was presented with the World War II Campaign Medal with four Bronze Stars, an Army Good Conduct Medal and a World War II Victory Medal.
“Thank you, thank you all for coming,” Kroll told the large crowd that gathered to celebrate him and his 95th birthday which is on Nov. 18.
In May, DHM Collections Manager Matthew Graff interviewed Kroll as part of a World War II project to preserve stories from the war, when Kroll’s family brought up the service medals.
Kroll’s family, the Dearborn Historical Museum, Dearborn Vet Center and Dearborn Army Recruiting Office worked together to process the paperwork needed for Kroll to receive the medals.
During the ceremony, Museum Director Jack Tate thanked Kroll for his service. “I don’t know how this country could ever thank you and those who served with you during that time. I’m a veteran myself so to me it is near and dear to do whatever we can for any and every veteran in our country.”
According to a city of Dearborn press release, during World War II Kroll served in the artillery for the 106th Infantry Division, where he was one of 17 survivors of the 107 men in his battery, and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Kroll was born and raised in Detroit when he was drafted in November 1943, as were his two brothers and then his son years later. Now living in Dearborn, Kroll returned home on Dec. 25, 1945, after which he worked as a mail carrier for 22 years.
In his interview with the DHM, Kroll recalled what he could from the Battle of the Bulge, including being put on guard duty for four to five hours at night when the battle started.
According to the interview transcript, Kroll heard a noise in the background from the enemy side while he had his finger on the trigger halfway pulled before realizing the person was from his division coming to give an update on what was happening on the infantry line.
“We saw mechanisms, half-tracks, and what have you, and we fired at one, did get one, and he came out of the like turret side of like a machine gun but before he could fire at us, our infantry had killed a guy and that’s why it’s so hard to talk about it,” he said.
“It went on for five days we were in a retreat and we were strafed and struck in convoy. On the third day I was tired. I slept right on top of, well it was a truck that pulled artillery in piece. Everything ammunition, shovels, stuff was in this truck. I slept right on top of it. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and that’s about that.”
All four of Kroll’s children — Karen Laczkowski, Christine DeYoung, Michael Kroll and Cynthia Olind — stood by their father after he was presented his service medals.
Laczkowski thanked everyone in attendance for coming and sharing the occasion with her family and for honoring her father.
“When he tells his stories occasionally and they’re not very often, few and far between, there’s a very heartbreaking and very — it really is very moving what he had to go through,” she said. “I would also like to thank Mr. Tate for helping put this together and all these wonderful people, the chief, the county commissioner, Mr. Bazzi and all the people who came to honor my father.”
Police Chief Ronald Haddad presented Kroll with a hat and proclamation from Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and the city. Haddad’s father and three uncles served in World War II. He said that when his father found out about the ceremony he said, “You’d better bring my comrade a hat.”
Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun also presented Kroll with a resolution from Wayne County signed by all 15 commissioners.
“Thank you for your service, because of your bravery and brave men like you we enjoy our freedoms in this country today,” he said. “Happy birthday.”
Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council Commander and Dearborn Heights Councilman Bill Bazzi said he was honored to be at the ceremony, especially has a veteran himself.
“I know you just received these awards, but you’ve always had these awards,” Bazzi said. “We honor you and we’ve honored you guys from — I know I have 21 years in the Marines — you guys paved the way for us to serve. We thank you for everything you’ve done for us. We’re so proud of you.”
Anyone who knows a World War II or Korean War veteran can contact the DHM to schedule an interview for the museum’s preservation project at 313-565-3000.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])