Chesterton Tribune

The War: Remembering one who did not return

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Magdelene in service: Lasayko motared this war-time photograph of Magdelene Kubeck next to the plaque. (Tribune photo by Kevin Nevers)

 

By KEVIN NEVERS

On Feb. 15, 1945, a U.S. Navy nurse was riding in an ambulance on the Island of Guam when it overturned.

It’s unclear today exactly what happened. According to one account, the ambulance’s driver and his passengers were fleeing a Japanese air attack, although American troops had liberated the island months before and by that time in the war Japanese air power was negligible. Any air attack at that point would have been a one-way Kamikaze mission, unlikely but not impossible, from a land base on Okinawa or Iwo Jima.

Or—as had happened to countless motorists throughout the war, on the front, well behind it, on still city streets on dark moonless nights—the driver may simply have been running his ambulance by black-out lights, missed a turn, and lost the road.

The circumstances of the crash hardly matter, of course. Lt. (j.g.) Magdelene T. Kubeck was killed, in a miserable war on the other side of the world, in the service of her country. She had landed in Guam only days before.

Magdelene was from Chesterton. Her parents lived in a house on North Calumet Road. And so far as anyone knows, she was the only woman from Westchester Township, and perhaps the whole of Porter County, to die in service in World War II.

* * *

Just about a year ago, Dave Lasayko, a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows on C.R. 700N in South Haven, was enjoying a fish fry at the church when he got the idea of restoring an old decorative pond which someone had once built on the grounds.

It was only a small pond, maybe six feet long and a couple wide, fed by a pump-driven waterfall which once upon a time trickled down a rock ledge topped by a modest statue of Saint Anthony. In its day the pond would have been a lovely place to reflect and pray. But the pump had long since failed and the pond had gone dry, weeds had overgrown it, and the impacted leaves of dozens of autumns had buried it.

Lasayko began by removing the debris from the pond. And when he did Lasayko found, to his surprise, a plaque fixed to a rock at the front edge: In Memoriam. Lt. (j.g.) Magdelene Kubeck. U.S. Navy. Killed in Guam 1945.

Today Lasayko calls it The Forgotten Plaque. And forgotten it certainly had been. Who Magdelene was, and who had grieved her, he couldn’t even guess. No one at the parish could say either. Our Lady of Sorrows was founded in 1967, but the pond appeared to have been built years earlier, when the Franciscans were still welcoming pilgrims to the Seven Dolors Shrine, their monastery on the grounds. Is a memorial even a memorial if no one remembers? But intrigued by the mystery, saddened too by the oblivion into which a loved one’s gesture had fallen, Lasayko determined to resurrect Magdelene’s memory.

Eventually he called Eva Hopkins, Duneland’s preeminent historian.

* * *

Magdelene was originally a Whiting girl. She, her parents, John and Mary, and two sisters and brother lived above the grocery store which John ran until hard times in the Depression forced him to sell it. John then went to work for Standard Oil and evidently saved enough to buy a farm house in Chesterton.

Magdelene, in the meantime, graduated from Whiting High School, studied nursing in Chicago, then found a position as a private nurse in Chesterton. But she was also a member of the U.S. Navy Nurses Reserve Corps, and on Dec. 8, 1941, 24 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Magdelene was called into service. For most of the war she was stationed in San Diego and Seattle, but just before Christmas 1944 she left for the Pacific, hitting Guam early in February 1945.

“The parents received a letter she had written on Feb. 10, five days before her death” reads a piece published in the Feb. 22, 1945, edition of the Vidette-Messenger. “It gave no hint of a health break or impending disaster.”

John and Mary received that letter after their daughter was already dead. Magdelene was buried in Guam, and though the U.S. Navy promised to send details of her death, it apparently never did beyond the minimal information that she died in an accident.

A photo of Magdelene in her dress whites shows a woman with a large nose and prominent teeth but stunning eyes and an absolutely radiant smile. It shows a woman proud of her uniform. God alone knows how many marines and sailors she healed, how many whose last hours and minutes on earth she made peaceful.

Magdelene was 36 when she died. She never married.

* * *

Hopkins calls herself a “notebook nut.” In any case, in one of those ledgers she’s compiled a record, drawn mostly from the archives of the Chesterton Tribune, of the war-time service of virtually every Dunelander who was drafted or enlisted during World War II. So when Hopkins received Lasayko’s call, she was able to help. Into his hands she delivered a copy of the initial announcement of Magdelene’s death, published in the Feb. 22, 1945, edition of the Tribune, the same day John and Mary received the telegram from the Department of the Navy; as well as an obituary published in the April 9, 1948 edition, after her body had been returned to the States and was en route to Chesterton for burial.

Lasayko next turned to ancestry.com and managed to find a few of Magdelene’s surviving relatives: a nephew in Oregon, another in New Jersey, a cousin-by-marriage in Duneland. From them he pieced together a probable history of the pond and the plaque.

John and Mary were not only devout Catholics but devoted gardeners who planted acres of rose beds on their property in Chesterton, amid the profusion raising statues and grottos as expressions of their faith. They were a gentle and generous couple and to their table they frequently invited the Franciscans of the Seven Dolors Shrine. Presumably the Franciscans just as frequently returned the favor.

Who built the pond, who fixed the plaque, Lasayko never actually learned with certainty. But he knows that Mary planted rose beds on the grounds of the Seven Dolors Shrine and that her son, Ben, the owner of a nursery, donated many of the trees still growing there.

Lasayko’s best guess is that Mary had a hand in the pond, that maybe she planned it and in all likelihood landscaped it, and that the unobtrusive rectangle of metal bearing her daughter’s name, lapped by the living waters in this most serene of places, was in her eyes memorial enough to Magdelene’s sacrifice for God and country.

In April 1948 Magdelene’s remains were buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, following a naval escort to Chesterton and full military honors at grave side. John died in 1960, Mary in 1979. They rest together now, daughter in the middle, mother to her right, father to her left.

* * *

For months Lasayko and his wife worked on the pond, cleaning and refurbishing it. He replaced the pump, built a handsome house for it, and as a final touch placed the service photo of Magdelene next to the plaque.

On Saturday Father Doug Mayer of Our Lady of Sorrows blessed and re-dedicated the pond to Magdelene’s memory in a well-attended ceremony. “You are the eternal giver of peace,” he prayed. “Sanctify the lives of all peacemakers and grant eternal life to all who have fallen in the cause of peace. . . . We thank you for the life and grace of your Lt. Magdelene Kubeck and all her comrades, living and deceased, who answered the call to bring us peace.”

After the ceremony Mayer spoke to the Tribune on the importance of the pond. “It helps us to remember the sacrifice of the fallen and to keep in prayer those serving now and the gift of stewardship in the community, that someone would take the trouble to restore it and show our respect and honor for Magdelene.”

For Lasayko the ceremony was a mellow culmination, both glad and sad, of his deepening acquaintance with Magdelene. “What got me caught up in this is how giving a person Magdelene was,” he said. “And then she gave all she could give for her country and community. Magdelene’s become part of our family. We never knew her, yet we got to know her so well.”

 

Posted 10/4/2007