Legendary 'Sgt. Rosie,' Missing Since WWII, Laid to Rest in Los Angeles

  • This undated photo shows Staff Sgt. David Rosenkrantz of the 82nd Airborne Division's Company H, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Nearly 74 years after he was killed in a ferocious World War II battle, Rosenkrantz has been laid to rest in Southern California. (Rosenkrantz Family Photo via AP)
    This undated photo shows Staff Sgt. David Rosenkrantz of the 82nd Airborne Division's Company H, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Nearly 74 years after he was killed in a ferocious World War II battle, Rosenkrantz has been laid to rest in Southern California. (Rosenkrantz Family Photo via AP)
  • Members of the 82nd Airborne Division present Staff Sgt. David Rosenkrantz' medals to his family. Photo courtesy of 82nd Airborne Division
    Members of the 82nd Airborne Division present Staff Sgt. David Rosenkrantz' medals to his family. Photo courtesy of 82nd Airborne Division
  • Staff Sgt. David Rosenkrantz was finally laid to rest in Los Angeles 74 years after he fell in battle during World War II. Photo courtesy of 82nd Airborne Division
    Staff Sgt. David Rosenkrantz was finally laid to rest in Los Angeles 74 years after he fell in battle during World War II. Photo courtesy of 82nd Airborne Division

Flags in California were at half-staff last week to honor "Sgt. Rosie" of the 82nd Airborne Division, who fell 74 years ago in the attempt to break through against the Germans known as Operation Market Garden.

The unsuccessful operation was made into the movie "A Bridge Too Far."

His family had never given up on the return one day of Sgt. David Rosenkrantz, son of Russian-Jewish immigrants from the Watts section of Los Angeles who served with Company H, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, during World War II.

Their efforts connected them with an intrepid Dutch researcher, Ben Overland, who had found a crude map of a farmhouse where Rosenkrantz fell in a firefight.

The map was inscribed with a Star of David and simple words, presumably written by one of Rosenkrantz' buddies: "Sgt. Rosie KIA."

The inscription was a key factor in the work of international teams who found Rosenkrantz' remains in a Canadian cemetery, where he had been buried as an unknown American soldier.

At the burial service in Riverside National Cemetery in Los Angeles last Friday, his nephew, Dr. Phillip Rosenkrantz, said, "This is a day I have been hoping for over 20 years. We now have some closure," The Los Angeles Times reported.

"We are honored to have the 82nd Airborne Division here. It means a great deal to us to have his unit represented, presenting his awards," Dr. Rosenkrantz said in a statement.

The awards included the Bronze Star with Combat "V" device, the Purple Heart, the Combat Parachutist Badge with two bronze stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Netherlands Orange Lanyard.

"My family and I would like to thank all of the people who helped locate our uncle and bring him home to be buried with his four brothers, who were also part of World War II and are buried at Riverside National Cemetery," Dr. Rosenkrantz said.

"We always say that when you serve in the 82nd Airborne Division, you walk in the footsteps of legends," Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, the division historian, said in a statement delivered at the ceremony. "Today, one of those legends has returned home."

The legend of Sgt. Rosie began in 1943, when he parachuted into Sicily with the 504th. He and another 82nd soldier, Cpl. Lee Black, were blown off course. They landed next to about 200 Italian troops and were briefly captured. The Italians then decided to surrender to the two Americans, Buccino said.

Back home, banner headlines in the Los Angeles newspapers read, "L.A. Paratrooper, Buddy Capture 200 Italians," and "Los Angeles Warrior 'Captures his Captors.' "

Rosenkrantz was wounded in the Sicily invasion but went on to serve in the Italian campaign before being sent to Britain to prepare for the invasion of France and the push into Germany.

The 82nd was led at the time by the legendary Maj. Gen. James M. "Jumpin' Jim" Gavin, who at age 37 was the youngest two-star in the U.S. military at the time.

Rosenkrantz was held back from the division's participation in the D-Day landings but later assigned to Operation Market Garden, a daring plan to drop paratroopers into the Netherlands and secure a road and bridges to speed the end of the war.

On Sept. 28, 1944, Rosenkrantz' unit occupied a farm south of the Dutch town of Groesbeek when they were attacked by German tanks and infantry, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) said.

Rosenkrantz was killed by a machine-gun burst. "Due to enemy fire and the proximity to enemy troops, Rosenkrantz' remains could not be recovered," the DPAA said.

From 1945 to 1952, Canadian, Dutch and American Graves Registration teams were active in the area where Rosenkrantz died; the Dutch team found his dog tags. There were also sparse remains, but they were unidentifiable, the DPAA said.

Unknown to the search teams, a Canadian team earlier had collected remains from the area around Groesbeek and buried them at the Canadian National Cemetery as unknowns. The search lost traction for decades.

Inspired by the 1977 movie "A Bridge Too Far," Dr. Rosenkrantz eventually set up a website to aid in the search for his uncle. He made three trips to Holland and also established contact with Overland and 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment historian Frank Van Lunteren.

Through their efforts, the DPAA disinterred a grave at the Canadian National Cemetery in Margraten. Working with mitochondrial DNA, the DPAA confirmed the remains in March as those of Rosenkrantz.

Buccino, the 82nd historian, said Rosenkrantz had been one of 106 from the division still missing from World War II, including Brig. Gen. Charles "Bull" Keerans, the highest-ranking U.S. officer listed as MIA.

"As a nation, we celebrate our war dead and we cherish the accomplishments of our World War II veterans, but we sometimes lose sight of the fact that they have not all been found," Buccino said. "They have not all been given the service and ceremony that we owe them. As a nation, we must commit to finding all of them."

Rosenkrantz was a prolific letter writer to his extended family, and several of the letters have previously been posted by Military.com.

In a letter from Naples in December 1943, he wrote: "Today is starting out real nice. Just like at home. A little frost in the morning, then a bright clear sun, the rest of the day. At least we hope so. It rained about 26 days out of the last month. Not continual, but during some part of the day. This is sunny Italy all right, but the sun comes in such small bunches and everytime it rains the snow gets a little lower on the mountains. Might have a white Christmas yet.

"We have been resting and eating pretty well," the letter continued. "We have fried chicken promised us from some people in town here. We trade some stuff we would ordinarily throw away. These people really are poor. They even put patches on patches. They won't take money because there is nothing to buy. The best stores in Naples wouldn't even be a close second in Watts. It is a nice looking country though, but looks don't count here.

"As for me, I'm still OK and feeling pretty good now. Hope you are all the same. So long and good luck. Love to Ma & Pa & all the rest," he wrote.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to show Rosenkrantz was held back from the D-Day landings, not his division.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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