Ralph C. Fox

Sharon Lynn Ellermeier
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Ralph is the founding father of Antlers Center: www.antlerscenter.com

A WWII and Recovery Hero!

My lover's dead - not on a battlefield or bed But somewhere deep inside! Where I can't or even wouldn't dare to go.

I wrote that in the fall of 1946 when my husband, Captain Ralph C. Fox 0548 711 had been back from the European Theater for a few months.

He was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, but grabbed the Silver Star for the points that might have let him come home and see his new baby girl, Paige, before going to Japan where in all likelihood he would have died. VJ intervened.

Ralph and I were students at the University of Nebraska. We fell in love on the day of Pearl Harbor. All able-bodied young men at UNL were in ROTC headed for officers training at Fort Benning. Despite horrible scars and fragile skin on his legs as the result of an explosion where he worked as a teenager, Ralph wanted to be in a machine gun company. I learned, with him, to put a 30-caliber machine gun together in the dark and encouraged him in his training. We married at 19 and 21 on May 8th, 1943.

In May 1944 I got my degree and Ralph his commission. By D- Day June 6, 1944 we were with Co. D, 276th regiment, 70th Division at Camp Adair, Oregon. Roses everywhere and grand people. Many couples, with whom, we became friends. In September 1944 we all trekked to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and on an early Thanksgiving the whole 70th entrained for Boston and Europe leaving lots of bawling wives behind.

The photographer, R. Wayne Anderson, my friend and boss, took me to pick up a duffle bag and put me on the bus to Iowa. A dreary trip. Newly pregnant, I went home to teach School and give birth. Ralph was worried sick and so was I.

After landing wet at Versailles, the 70th (Company D) went right into the bulge. They met, not the old men and little boys expected by General Eisenhower, but well rested, well trained SS Nordwind, fresh from training in Norway. That was when Ralph got his baptism by fire and lost many of his, and my, good friends in Wingen, France. Hulet and Gerlach died at their machine gun. An SS soldier laughed at their bodies and Ralph came within a second of blowing his head off. Subsequently he wished he had and (at the same time) was glad he didn't.

I often say, you'd think; but, that isn't always the way it goes. As the division melted away, after VE day by injury, death and design, Ralph became extremely nervous, depressed and despondent. Cleaning his carbine for the last time he was unconcerned when it discharged and the bullet creased his forehead.

Plans to get home faded and died at VJ Day. He sat in a sandy, miserable tent city near Antwerp until General Mark Clark chose him to go with him to Linz Austria in July of 1945 to direct a camp containing 5,000 survivors of the Holocaust and many German SS prisoners.

That was Kleinmunchen. A 24-year-old Captain brought to his knees physically, mentally and spiritually was undertaking a job of giant proportions.

Lieutenants: Meagher, Swingle, Krasnoff, and Schram joined the team. They had no model, no blueprint, no professional staff plus a real lack of provisions and resources.

No shoes for children hurt Ralph dreadfully.

A sea captain, Zeno Zankai stepped forward with his knowledge of 7-10 languages. Lola and Louis Lauritsen, opera singers from Hungary bolstered morale at entertainments. Their ballerina nieces, Aronka and Mary Voros, whose husbands had been killed by the Russians, did what they could although Mary's baby, Mary Barbara, (named for Ralph's mother and me) was stillborn.

Ralph officiated at a simple, but appropriate funeral.

After 10 months he had bonded with his people. News of his leaving was bittersweet. He wanted to bring the Lauretsens family, Zeno, a 12-year-old boy and a little yellow sheltie dog home with him. A government letter said, Immigration was closed.

Em Ral Kempf of maple grove Minnesota (3750 Lawndale Ln. apt. 107 Plymouth, MN 55446-2969) served in a similar camp nearer Linz. General Mark Clark preferred that area. It was quieter. He deserved some rest.

Ralph's homecoming was somber. No welcoming parades (May 1946), scarce housing, a worn out wife. At 22, I was a mess, even jealous that he cared about his friends in Austria. He mailed them Tide, food and clothing.

After getting his degree in journalism, Ralph had a distinguished career. Ten years as a hard drinking photojournalist at a good newspaper: the Lincoln Journal Star. His team won a Pulitzer Prize and then he was fired. A society editor raised in him a similar rage, as had the SS prisoner who laughed at his friend's bodies. She (didn't know it, but she) also barely escaped.

In 1958, after a solid year of drinking, Ralph embraced recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous with the same enthusiasm as he had his recovery from burns, his military service, his stint in Kleinmunchen and his career in journalism. Now making a living as a photographer he became aware of the many Veterans wandering the street in the grip of alcoholism. Besides alcohol they were being given inappropriate anti-psychotic and sedative drugs. They had an aversion to treatment and they were mistreated by ill informed professionals.

Ralph bought house after house, in our middleclass neighborhood surrounding our home. He finally had 65 beds for men and women. He and his children: his son Kevin Fox, his daughter Paige and her husband Ronald Namuth worked side by side to change the face of alcoholism in Lincoln, Nebraska, and, indeed nation wide. His creed was kindness, good nutrition, education and of course the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Houses of Hope continue on 44 years to this day (30 May 2006). His family has moved on to concentrate their efforts at the Antlers Treatment Center (2101 Sheridan Blvd Lincoln NE 68502 (402) 434-3965, http://www.antlerscenter.com), a family oriented treatment facility, which incorporates the principals of love, compassion, and integrity that Ralph lived by.

The Other day I found a scrap of paper - a receipt received on October 15th, 1945, from Lt. Ralph C. Fox, 500 Nederland SS troops, Amersfort Holland:

Transporting these ragged wretches was an awful task and a dangerous one. The SS still had supporters in Germany, bitter enemies in Holland, many were shot as they staggered off the train. - Ralph C. Fox, 0548711, First Lieutenant, Company D, 276th Infantry, at Wingen, France, on 4 January, 1945.

Ralph's Distinguished Service Cross Citation:

When an enemy force in overwhelming numbers overran a rifle company supported by a heavy machinegun section under his command, Lieut. Fox directed the fire of his section in a gallant effort to hold back the assault. Moving back and forth between the two guns, and constantly exposed to fire, he inspired his men to withstand three fanatical attacks by the enemy. Hopelessly outnumbered, and with one of his gun crews separated from him by enemy infiltration, Lieut. Fox led the remaining crew through the attackers who had all but surrounded him. For a mile and a half, he fought a rear guard action. Setting up the heavy machine guns every 30 yards to hold back the advancing foe. Under his direction, his crew knocked out an enemy machine gun and inflicted heavy casualties on the assaulting troops. Covering the withdrawal of the remaining five members of his crew with his carbine, Lieut. Fox killed four more of the enemy at point blank range. His gallant action held back a strong enemy assault long enough to permit the remainder of his battalion to reorganize a defense and ultimately to drive the enemy back to it's previous position.

Ralph's son, daughter and grandchildren keep the citation of Ralph's nomination for the Distinguished Service Cross before them as a reminder not only what he did to secure their freedom and safety but what he did to champion the human rights and dignity of all people.

Ralph died peacefully on November 17, 1998 in his own bed. He was exhausted and needed rest.

Ralph's family wants to hear from anyone in the 70th who remembers Kleinmunchen or the battle of Forbach, which claimed many lives and was a turning point in the Bulge.

E-mail address is antlerscenter@yahoo.com

Ralph is the founding father of Antlers Center: www.antlerscenter.com