Albert Raphael Bidelot didn’t live to celebrate his 29th birthday. About the only trace you’ll find of him is his name on a couple of bronze plaques: one at Lindenwood Cemetery; the other on a wall of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
But there are also the sweet recollections of his bride, whose memories underscore the sacrifice Bidelot made so most of us can leave a much fuller legacy. Their story and hundreds of thousands of others like it are why we observe this sacred holiday.
Martha Krieg, a 92-year-old Fort Wayne resident now living in a Syracuse health center, met Albert Bidelot through her best friend’s brother. Albert, an only child, was born in France. His father was killed in World War I; his mother remarried, to an American soldier with roots near Albion, Mich. Albert’s family relocated to Fort Wayne. At South Side High School, his nickname was Frenchie and he was president of French Club. His 1935 yearbook photos show a tall, slim, dark-haired student with a shy smile.
Six years Martha’s senior, Albert joined the Navy with a friend after graduation and returned to Fort Wayne following his four-year hitch. The young couple’s social life revolved around their church.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Albert told Martha that he and his friend were Navy men; they would re-enlist so as not to be drafted into the Army. He also wanted to get married before he shipped off.
The young newlyweds lived in a trailer near the naval station in Chicago, awaiting his orders. Within three months he left for the South Pacific, assigned to the USS Helena, a 10,000-ton light cruiser returning to the combat zone after repairs from the Guadalcanal campaign.
Martha never saw her husband again. Survivors later assured her that Albert probably died instantly on July 6, 1943. He was below deck, in the engine room, when the ship was struck by Japanese torpedoes. It broke into three parts and sank with 168 crewmen aboard.
Martha returned to live with her family on a farm near the Fort Wayne airport. The telegram pronouncing Albert missing in action went to his mother, Susanne, who lived in the city. It would be a full year before Albert Bidelot was proclaimed dead.
Life went on for Martha. She married again and enjoyed 64 years with Dohr Krieg before his death in 2009. There were a son and two daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
At Martha’s request, Pamela Ioannou took her mother to Memorial Coliseum last year to find Albert Bidelot’s name on the memorial plaque honoring Allen County’s war dead. Because his body had never been recovered, there was never a traditional funeral service.
Today, however, is the day for all of us to remember Albert Bidelot and the other young men and women whose life stories ended too soon. Before marriages, children or grandchildren. Before first anniversaries, first homes, vacations, family celebrations, graduations and retirement parties.
Today is the day to stop and reflect on the brief and unselfish lives that have made possible all of the treasured moments the rest of us enjoy.