By Stephanie Phelan
At the start of the U.S. fighting in WWII, my uncle, Larry Phelan, served as a lieutenant in the army’s famous First Infantry Division. During the invasion of Sicily, in July of 1943, his unit was overrun by Germans and he became a prisoner of war. A letter to my aunt from a commanding officer told of how Larry had saved many members of his platoon and even risked his own life by dragging one member from the line of fire before he himself was captured by the Germans. He was imprisoned for two years in occupied Poland in a camp for officers, Oflag 64, and was released in the summer of 1945.
Because of his acts of heroism, he received a Purple Heart, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and several other honors, and was eventually promoted to the rank of major.
Larry was the most talented and creative person I’ve ever known, and every project he put his hand to became artistic gold. His writings, as it happens, are treasured by untold numbers of military service men and women.
Recently, I was contacted by a gentleman from Springvale, Maine who was organizing the town’s annual Veteran’s Day ceremony and publishing a small book about one of this small town’s fallen—Lt. Ralph L. Hanson—who gave his life for his country while fighting in France in 1944. Ralph had been a young man beloved by all, and my Uncle Larry was given the grave duty of escorting his body back to his family in the small town of Springvale. The gentleman wanted my permission, which I gladly gave, to publish Larry’s story in the book, A Soldier’s Coming Home. My uncle’s account of this journey is cherished not only by me, but by all of those involved in the Fallen Veteran’s Project in Sandford/Springvale, Maine.
My uncle was a war hero; but most of all he was my hero.
Stephanie Phelan has lived in the West Village for 39 years and served as an auxiliary police officer in the 6th Precinct for 30 of those years. She has worked for WestView News for ten years as a designer, ad coordinator, and creator/writer/designer of the Events section.