Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ezra Kreiss KIA the English Channel 28 April 1944

Recently, the life of Ezra Kreiss was presented to the Lehighton Area Middle School through the efforts of the “Operation Never Forget Club.”  He was killed on April 28th 1944 by a German S-boat in the English Channel.

Ezra Kreiss's Slatington High Class of 1939
Senior Portrait.
Kreiss was the son of Joseph and Minnie and was a 1939 graduate of Slatington High School.  His father, and later Ezra, seemed to possess a jovial disposition, a trait that would be handed down through the generations of Kreiss's.

For most of his young life they lived on a farm until Joseph became the manager of the local A & P Grocery Store.  After high school he was employed by the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.

He was a faithful member of his Slatington Brethren Church which shared their pastor with the Salem Bible Fellowship Church on Cypress Street in Lehighton.
The 1 January 1943 wedding picture of Ezra
and Madeline (Haas) Kreiss.

That is where the Madeline Haas family went to church.  It was a surprise to all (except for Rev Bean) when they announced at the New Year’s Eve Ceremony of 1942 that they would be getting married in the new year.  So, fifteen minutes into 1943, the two were wed.

Ezra had already been inducted into the Army the previous August.  He was sent to training in California for quartermaster training.  His new wife Madeline would later join him there as well as in Fort Lee Virginia just prior to his shipping off to Slapton Sands, Devon, England in January of 1944.

He knew full well he was to be part of the yet to be disclosed invasion of the continent, he knew he would be part of penetrating Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall.’  As for the specific time and place, that was only known to a few men between the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and Kreiss’s command.
Ezra and Madeline: a most handsome couple.

Eisenhower wanted to test them, to put them through hell, through sea-sickness and live munitions slamming the beach.
Joseph showing the Kreiss sense of

Ezra was a special son, his mother’s favorite according to his last surviving sister Esther. “He loved farm work.”  She remembered him flopping the tedded hay onto a wagon in long smooth over-head arcs on the neighbor’s farm.  And since she had no way of earning money of her own, Ezra shared a portion of each of his Burrogh’s Adding Machine p
Ezra's mother Minnie.  These were
among the photos found in his
aychecks with her.

Their eldest brother Paul was a minster in Indiana.  Amos, the next brother did what he could to avoid farmhouse drudgeries.  

But not Ezra, he not only had the patience to sit with Minnie but it seemed to bring a cheerfulness down into his bones. 

Esther looked up to Ezra with wonderment.

And so too, did his new family, the brothers and sisters of his wife Madeline.  Madeline was the oldest daughter of Calvin and Rebecca Haas of Haas’s Store in Lehighton.  

Madeline and Ezra lived at the store for short stretches, they were like second parents to the other six Haas children : Miriam, Mildred, Robert, Ruth, Hilbert, and BetteMae.

He wrote them many letters with advice and cheerful banter, always signing off as “Your Big Brother, Ezra.”  He’d tease Robert about the Slatington cagers defeating Lehighton while sending him his old sergeant stripes with sketches of how to sew them into position.  
Ezra Kreiss letter to his young brother-in-law Robert Haas.

He chided Ruth to keep Hilly and Bette away from the newly papered walls with their crayons, which was the reason which necessitated the interior makeover to begin with.
On the night of April 27th, Ezra was part of the live-fire practice run known as “Operation Tiger.”  This was just five weeks before D-Day.  Eight U.S. Tank Landing Crafts (LSTs) were loaded with men, munitions, tanks, and trucks.  

All loaded to the hilt with supplies and gasoline for what could have been the actual invasion as far as any of the men were told.

The Americans were to be escorted by two British patrol ships to protect the extremely slow, easy targets of the LSTs (they cruised at 12 knots), however only one of those ships appeared that night. 

~Below please view the video played at the May 2015 
Memorial Day Ceremony that honored Kreiss and Haydt:

One of the surviving truck drivers from the mission said the moment he figured the mission was just a practice was when his commander slipped and told him to remember to drive on the left hand side of the road after the beachhead was secured.    

Two LSTs were sunk: LST-531 and LST-507.  They were torpedoed by German S-boats, ‘schnell’ meant ‘fast’ in German but known to the Allies as ‘E-boats,’ the ‘e’ stood for ‘enemy.’
This is an actual picture of the German S-boat that sank LST-531.  These
high-speed boats had two torpedo tubes and carried only four torpedoes.
These craft were designed for a quick in and out assault.  A British
billionaire purchased this boat and is in the process of restoring it.  He
intends to offer a fitting tribute to the men killed: to launched 638 poppies
from the torpedo tubes over the wreckage of LST-531 in the English

Men had to act quickly: Dive into the ring of burning oil and gas atop the frigid forty-four degree water or stay on a ship that would go down in seven minutes, hence pulling them down in the action.  

They were loaded for battle: they had their “Mae West” life-preservers wrapped about their waists and their top-heavy packs above.  Many drown with their feet in the air.

About 700 were burned, drown, or succumbed to hypothermia.  Of those missing, eight were said to know the true plans, the time, date and place, for D-Day.  The next day, search and rescue were able to locate each and every one of those officers; hence many other KIA’s were recovered in the process.
Ezra Kreiss's dogtags.  The address was Haas's Store at
5th and Coal Streets in Lehighton.

Another 300 were killed when the convoy continued onto the beach at Slapton Sands to finish the exercise.  Eisenhower ordered friendly fire to come from the HMS Hawkins.  Through a communication error, men were never told the safe parameters of the beachhead that was selected for its close resemblance to Utah Beach in Normandy. 

Eager for safety and encountering no resistance, the men pressed through the beach area to the rear.  In doing so, they placed themselves under the fire of the Hawkins.  The Hawkins fire was well-placed.  The men were never told where on the beach to stop.

Nearly 1,000 men killed in this exercise.  This was the deadliest training accident to that date.

Ezra’s body was first buried at Brookwood and later interred at American Cemetery at Cambridge in 1956.

Madeline delivered a son on 21 January 1944, less than two weeks after Ezra shipped off to England.  Among the letters he sent home to his family, he mentioned the need for more pictures of his son, Ezra Junior.  The pictures of Madeline and his baby, along with the pictures of his parents above, were found in the wallet that were returned to his widow.

Robert Haas at Cambridge Cemetery.  He looked
up to his brother-in-law.
Madeline’s brother, Robert “Bobby” Haas was the first to visit the grave while on duty for the navy in the 1950s.  Madeline visited in the 1960s.  
This hand-drawn map was sent by Robert Haas to his sister Madeline in the 1950s.

At the chapel, there is a book of the dead under glass in which one page is turned each day.  On the day of her visit, the book was open one page shy of Ezra’s page.

Recently, a daughter of Robert Haas, who conducts work for the military, visited the grave exactly seven days after “Operation Never Forget” placed flowers there.  She poignantly observed his was the only grave decorated with flowers.  

As the years passed, Madeline Kreiss eventually married another veteran of the war.  However, there is little question as to who was her one true love. 

Over the years, the thought that haunted her the most, was the fact that she knew Ezra couldn’t swim.  The other part, was never seeing his face again.
This touching photo of a mother and her first and only child baby Ezra
was one of 7 pictures found in Ezra Senior's wallet and was most likely the
last picture he looked at before boarding LST-531 on the night of
27 April 1944.

Ezra junior with his Aunt Ruth,
Madeline's little sister at
Camp Mitzpah in
Allentown mid-1940s.
Though Ezra Junior was an only child, his only child daughter was determined to have a large family of eight happy and healthy children.  All of them seem to possess the same contagious smile and infectious laugh of their grandfather lost at sea.
One of the 7 pictures Ezra had
in his wallet.  Wife Madeline
at the corner of the family store.
Ezra and Madeline's only
child on a first day
of school.
Flowers purchased by the "Operation
Never Forget" Club on 28 April 2015.  These
were the only flowers on any of the 3,900 American graves.
Above is Mildred "Sis" Haas Garvin with her
little brother Robert behind the store.
Robert would take over
the family business in the early 1960s.
The oldest Haas siblings in front of the store at 5th and Coal Sts: Miriam, Madeline (center), and Mildred.
Madeline Haas Kreiss on right with her son Ezra and his daughter along
with 6 of their 8 children from the 1990s.  Madeline died in 2008.

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