GI's Snapshot Captures Moment in Wartime
For John King, it was a moment of joy and relief.
The war was over and he had been out of the hospital for several weeks after being struck in the head with shrapnel in Germany.
And there was King, a St. Mary's High School graduate, in a crowd of 40,000 soldiers at a USO show in Nuremberg, Germany. In front of him was comedian and entertainer Jack Benny, who had been hoisted on the shoulders of a GI.
With a camera, King said, "liberated" during the war, he peered into the lens and took a picture. It was July 4, 1945.
When he came home to Akron, he married Eula Fry, joined the Akron Fire Department, and had four sons.
Some 12 years or so after the USO show, on Sept. 22, 1957, King opened a Sunday Beacon Journal's Parade Magazine and saw an article written by Jack Benny with the headline "My Nuremberg Concert" about the July 4, 1945, show.
His eyes then fixed on the black and white photograph that accompanied the story.
In the photograph, taken by Associated Press photographer William C. Allen, there was Benny, playing a violin smiling, hoisted in the air on the soldiers' shoulders. Off to the right, King is captured in the image using his camera to take a picture of a fellow GI. The GI was his Army pal Tony Sipich.
"There I was, in front of Mr. Benny, bent over, taking pictures with my little camera, with my friend, Tony Sipich standing next to me," he said.
When the book Memories of World War II: Photographs from the Archives of the Associated Press, written by Bob Dole and Walter Cronkite, was published in 2004, King's sons, Jim and Bob, bought the book for their father.
The sons encouraged their dad to turn to page 155. The photograph of Benny and King was in the book.
King, now 88, worked for more than three decades on the Akron Fire Department as a firefighter.
He said he came home from the war and made an easy transition back to civilian life.
On the battlefield
He joined the Army in 1943 and was part of the Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division, and was a replacement who arrived in France in late 1944.
His unit fought its way across Europe, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded along with several other comrades on April 12, 1945.
He was struck in the head with several pieces of shrapnel and suffered an ear injury that eventually resulted in him losing his hearing in one ear.
King was hospitalized from that point on until late May after the war in Europe ended.
He returned to his unit in Einsiedel, Czechoslovakia. At the time, he was worried about the fate of his brother, Stephen "Sonny" King, a B-17 pilot who had been shot down on D-Day and was held in a German POW camp.
"We did not know what his condition was, but I was glad that he would be taken care of when he got out of the POW camp," King said.
His brother, now 90, would retire as a colonel from the Air Force and served in Korea and Vietnam. He now resides in California.
At the time of the USO show, King was stationed in Uffenheim, Germany.
King saw a notice for the USO show at his camp that said Benny, actress Ingrid Bergman and harmonica player Larry Adler would be entertaining at the show at Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg.
King and Sipich and many other GIs from his camp rode on trucks 20 miles to the stadium the morning of July 4, 1945.
"We were in the crowd about halfway to the stage," he said.
When King arrived back in Akron, he carried with him a Purple Heart, Bronze and Silver Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, and other medals from his time at war.
While he didn't discuss the war for most of his life, his son Jim King, co-owner of Angel Falls Coffee in Akron, said his father has started talking about his war experience in recent years.
"He kept most of it in until the last decade," King said.
The story of the box camera and the snapshot of Jack Benny, said Jim King, is one he has known about forever.
"It's a great story," he said.
John King said he believes his war buddy Tony Sipich died in the 1980s.
His wife of 62 years, Eula King, died on Christmas Eve in 2011.
Proud of service
He said he still thinks of his war days that led up to the magic moment at the stadium in Nuremberg.
"You lose guys and you never saw them again," he said. "I know 15 guys personally who got killed in World War II."
Still, being in the Army during the war, he said, was an amazing time.
"I'm glad I was in," he said.
And as for the picture he took and the picture that was taken of him and his friend, he said, it is a moment that was captured for all of time.
"We made history," he said. "Me and Tony."
|World War II Army|