GLEN ELLYN – After two years serving on both fronts of World War II, a local veteran is receiving a day of honor and remembrance for his time in the armed forces.
Konrad “Joe” Knupp is visiting the nation’s capital as part of the Honor Flight program, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C., for a day, free of charge.
Knupp grew up on a farm in tiny Downing, Mo., and got an eighth-grade education at a one-room schoolhouse built by his great-grandfather before leaving the classroom to work.
Like many in his generation, he was drafted just after his 18th birthday in early 1944.
“There was nothing left to draft but 18-year-olds, other than a few that had deference,” he said. “Right away, I got a letter from the draft board.”
Knupp entered the Army and was in Europe by February 1945 as part of the 97th Infantry after the Battle of the Bulge left forces thin.
“It was the worst weather you could have in the north Atlantic there, waves as high as our house, as high as the boat. And cold,” he said. “At that time, there were still a lot of German submarines running around, these convoys ... zigzagged back and forth, but they didn’t stop. I tell you, if you fell overboard, you were at the mercy of the ship behind you.”
It was, perhaps, not the best place for someone who chose not to join the Navy in part because he couldn’t swim.
Knupp landed in France and pushed through the Ruhr Valley in Germany with the Allied forces, taking prisoners from a Nazi paratrooper unit before meeting with Russian troops. For the remainder his time in Europe, he pulled guard duty on warehouses and other locations until the end of western warfare May 8.
He got a 30-day furlough before being sent to the Pacific front and was training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina when the atomic bombs were dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending the war there as well.
But Knupp and thousands of other were still deployed as occupying forces. While abroad, he made stops at some of the front’s most notable and notorious battle sites months after they saw action: Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima and Saipan.
Iwo Jima, the site of a five-week battle known as one of the bloodiest in the war, was particularly impactful to him, he said. Even though he was there almost seven months after the fighting concluded, the island still stank.
“Iwo Jima, I think, made the biggest impression on me about the futility of war,” he said. “Seeing a hillside filled with those white crosses and Stars of David and it didn’t do any good.”
After about two years, Knupp was sent home April 26, 1946.
He met his wife, Doris, the schoolteacher at that one-room schoolhouse, at a fundraising pie auction, at which he bought three different pies to make sure he got hers. After a few years working on farms, the pair moved to Bartlett. Knupp became a sales manager at Hewlett Packard, fathered two children and has lived in Glen Ellyn since 1986.
Recently, Knupp found out he and his son, Mat, would fly April 9 to D.C. to see the sights, including the National World War II Memorial.
Mat said he looks forward to spending time with his father and his fellow veterans.
“He’s never really talked about (his experiences), and as a kid, I never really was interested or thought about asking him,” he said. “I’m not looking at this as an opportunity to have him share anything with me in that regard – I’m interested in listening to his reaction and interaction with the other vets and if they have those conversations about shared experiences then great.”