WW II hero laid to rest
Lavoie gets wish to be buried in Arlington
By susan nolan
Courtesy of Portsmouth Herald.Seacoast Media Group
August 07, 2009
HAMPTON — Before 88-year-old Ralph Lavoie died in early May, the World War II B-17 rear gunner asked a young Army nurse to make sure he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Nurse Allison Golden, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, who befriended Lavoie as his nurse at Hampton's Oceanside Rehabilitation Center, formerly Haven Health, kept that promise to the WW II hero who was once a prisoner of war in the infamous Stalag 17 in Austria.
Golden accompanied Lavoie's family and friends to his final resting place in Arlington, Virginia, where his ashes were interred in a full military burial beside his comrades-in-arms on July 24. Robin Alexander, of Berwick, Maine, also a nurse at Oceanside, went as well.
“He had asked me to be at his side through everything, no mater what, and I followed through,” said Golden, a veteran of the Iraq War and a nurse with A Company, 399th Combat Support Hospital at Fort Devens.
She first met Lavoie when she came to work at Oceanside in the winter of 2008, shortly after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Lavoie, who formed the first POW group in New Hampshire to help veterans and their wives wade through bureaucratic red tape and collect benefits for their service and disabilities, took an interest in Golden's military service.
“He had a lot of questions about how the VA (Veterans Administration) was taking care of (Iraq War veterans),” she said.
Their relationship grew from the first moment she met him, Golden said.
“He was like an adopted grandfather to me, and he was part of my military family,” the nurse said.
Lavoie's war story is among those told in the book “Boys at War, Men at Peace,” by Ed McKenzie.
Lavoie's room at the health care center where he'd lived since 2005, was littered with books on the subject.
He had joined the 384th Bombardment Group in 1942, and became a ball turret gunner, a technical sergeant, on a B-17. He was shot down over Germany on June 25, 1943, and spent 15 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag 7-S and Stalag 17, the prison that inspired a movie of the same name. Within six months, he tried to escape.
In the Hollywood version of the escape attempt, both Lavoie and his buddy were killed. In truth, Lavoie miraculously survived.
Lavoie recalled the night of the attempted escape during an interview with the Portsmouth Herald on July 10, 2005, a story that was framed and hung on his bedroom wall at Oceanside until the day he died.
On a snowy night, December 3, 1943, Lavoie and a fellow prisoner at Stalag 17 obtained wire cutters and made for the fence. They thought they were part of a larger group of 10 men who had bribed a prison guard into aiding them. But the other guards caught wind of the plan and the escape was scuttled.
Lavoie and Jim Proakis of New York, didn't get word. They successfully made it from their barracks to the wire, where they were caught in the lights of the guard tower.
Machine gunfire tore over them as they crawled on their bellies, trying to make it to the safety of an air raid trench. Proakis told Lavoie he was going to stand and make a run for it. Lavoie told him no, the bullets were firing over them.
Proakis stood to run and was cut down. A bullet smashed through Lavoie's left knee, shattering it for the rest of his life. The force flipped him over.
He lay there on the ground as a German officer and an enlisted man stood over him. The officer had a pistol and the enlisted man a rifle.
The officer aimed his pistol at Proakis and shot him in the head, Lavoie said. Then the officer pointed the gun at him.
Lavoie shouted at him not to shoot and twisted his body to avoid the bullets, all five, which came at him. One struck him in the right shoulder, another in the neck, one went into his ribs, one went through his left cheek and came out of his wide open mouth, which was screaming at the officer.
Lavoie doesn't know where the last bullet went. The officer had emptied his pistol.
The other prisoners in the barracks banged on the walls, shouting for Lavoie to be given medical aid. Lavoie was carried to the first-aid station and later to a hospital. He didn't emerge for three years.
Even a prisoner exchange in July 1944 that brought him home to the states only landed him in another hospital on Staten Island in New York City. For Lavoie, the war was over, but it was never really over until the day he died in May.
Decades after the war, he was finally free of his post-traumatic stress disorder, but his wounded leg never completely healed.
“He was very proud of what he did,” said Golden.
And while his funeral was held in Jaffrey, following his death at Oceanside in May, it was not until the burial in Arlington that his final wishes were fulfilled, she said.
“We went back the next day and they had put an urn into the ground and there was a little black marker with his name and rank and I said, ‘OK. It's official. He's here,'” the nurse said. “He had asked me to be at his side through everything, no mater what, and I followed through.”
Reviewed by: Michael Howard