In my writing about war veterans, I’ve always felt relief when a researcher helped me. Researchers can get accurate information or steer you in the right direction, even in this age of Google.
At The Morning Call over the years, newsroom librarian Ruth Burns backed me up countless times. She was my right hand in 2002 when I worked on a two-part series about Bataan Death March survivor Joe Poster, making sure I got the history right.
She would always help my colleagues or me when we needed resources or fact-checking. Beyond that, she was a really neat person and fun to be with.
We in the newsroom learned last week that Ruth had died at age 68. A Lehigh County deputy coroner pronounced her dead of natural causes at 4:35 p.m. Jan. 2 in her residence on Lehigh Parkway East, Allentown. She hadn’t been working at the paper for several years. We knew she had health problems.
Ruth and I had made a good team. In early 2004, she came to my desk and asked me if I knew there was a World War II Medal of Honor recipient living on the edge of our circulation area.
His name was Alton W. Knappenberger. He had gotten the medal for extraordinary heroism against the Germans in Italy, soon after the Anzio landings.
As I recall, Ruth had come across some old clippings about him, looked him up and found him still living. He was in eastern Berks County, near Boyertown. She had his address and phone number, and passed the info to me.
Her tip led to a long story I wrote about “Knappie” for the Memorial Day 2004 edition of The Morning Call. I think it was 110 column inches. I had spent hours interviewing him in his trailer in the woods. He had been a quiet country boy, a reluctant hero, and was not a big talker.
Knappenberger died four years later, at age 84, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. My piece on him is posted on Arlington’s website, http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/awkappenberger.htm
It’s the most personally satisfying story I’ve ever done.
I owe that to Ruth. It wouldn’t have happened without her.