Widow to be reunited with late husband's canteen
Aunt Libby, where are you?
Ted Nobles put out the call on Facebook the other day. He'd been asking himself that question ever since she called him out of the blue 11 years ago and told him of his great-uncle Lt. Wallace Lippincott Jr., who commanded a tank at the Battle of the Bulge - and never returned.
Long ago, he'd lost the notes from their conversation. He didn't remember her last name.
So when Lippincott's canteen arrived in the mail a few days before Christmas - 69 years after he was killed in the war - Nobles shared its story with his sister and her son, and figured he was the officer's next of kin.
I wrote about the canteen in Monday's newspaper, hoping the name Wallace Lippincott would ring a bell.
Barclay Whitaker works at Paoli Hospital as a medical technician. He read the column and called his cousin Betsy Lowe of Harleysville: "Your mother's on the front page of The Inquirer."
Lowe drove to a Wawa and grabbed 10 copies. Soon, she was on the phone with 92-year-old Elizabeth Pitner, who lives in an assisted-living facility outside Pittsburgh.
"She didn't sound excited. Maybe she was stunned," Lowe recalled. She had her son Aaron, a junior at Haverford College, pull up the column on his phone and read it to his grandmother.
When Lowe got back on the phone with her mother, the woman told her, "I'm still crying."
Elizabeth Pitner was getting ready for breakfast when I spoke with her Tuesday morning. She told me she was alone in her room, kept company by two portraits.
One is her wedding picture from September 1943, her arms locked with Wally Lippincott, her college sweetheart, beaming in his Army uniform.
The other is a pastel of her second husband, Craton Pitner, dressed in his Navy whites. She and Craton, a chemical engineer, were married 56 years.
For years, her son Tom said, she kept mementos of her first husband in a footlocker - the telegram from Western Union that announced his death, condolence notes, love letters from the front. "She told me those were personal."
They'd met as juniors at the University of Delaware. Although they were in the same class, he was two years older - he'd taken off time to work so he could afford the tuition.
He was from Chester, she was from Swarthmore. He'd drive her home in his Ford Phaeton. She says she liked him instantly, but he had a girlfriend. The more rides they took, they more they fell for each other.
"He was quite a guy. I thought he was just wonderful. He was about 5-foot-8, he had big shoulders because he had done a lot of weightlifting. He had been a football player in high school. By senior year, we were practically engaged. As I said in the yearbook, I was his one and only."
Wally had a campus job in the dining hall, and Libby helped him stack chairs on the tables as he mopped the floors. "We used to go out to fly kites in the afternoon."
They were in the library on Dec. 7, 1941, when some young men rushed in and announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. " 'We don't have to worry about that test the next week,' they said. 'We'll be in the war.'
"Little did we know then what lay ahead of us."
Though raised as a Quaker, Lippincott was moved to fight. He joined ROTC, then enlisted in graduation. He trained in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Arkansas. By September 1944, he was stationed at Fort Dix, and knew he'd get his orders soon.
The couple met in New Brunswick. She knew not to ask where or when he'd be shipping out.
"If you hadn't heard from them in three days, you knew they were gone," she said.
He wrote her nearly every day from Europe.
When he returned, he was going to be a lawyer. They'd raise a family. Maybe, she thought, they'd settle in Media.
In a book titled Tanks for the Memories, newspaperman Aaron Elson has written of the ambush of the 712th Tank Battalion that took Wallace Lippincott's life at age 25.
He'd just joined up with the company two weeks earlier. He had orders to advance in the Luxembourg woods at night. Six German antitank guns awaited them. The lead tank took a direct hit. Three men died - the driver, the loader, and the commander, Lt. Lippincott.
Libby was living with her parents in Swarthmore at the time.
"I got the news from a little old lady in the telegraph office," his widow recalls. "It was a very snowy night, 10 days after he died. It was a very stressful time, as you can imagine."
Later she heard from the Army that some of her husband's personal effects remained, but then there was a fire at the facility. "I never received anything he had with him."
That will change soon.
Nobles, a retired chef, says he will drive from Middletown, Del., to Canonsburg, Pa., and visit his Aunt Libby so he can give her the "relic," as she calls the aluminum canteen that bears the officer's name, rank, battalion, and the words Sauer Kraut.
"It should be hers," he says.
Columnist Daniel Rubin writes weekdays at http://inquirer.com/thetalk