MOORHEAD — Sisters Carol Anderson and Jane Nieland remember trying to find the government letter that said their uncle, Cletus Lipetzky, had died during World War II and that his body had not been recovered.
They recall the sadness in their grandmother’s face whenever his name was brought up.
“He was the uncle we never knew… but we felt like we knew him,” Nieland said.
The sisters are among a half dozen cousins from North Dakota, Minnesota and Florida gathered in Washington, D.C., to memorialize Lipetzky, who died on the USS LST 496 during a second wave of D-Day landings, 75 years ago.
The ship struck a mine on June 11, 1944, as it maneuvered the English Channel to Normandy, France. At work in the ship’s boiler room, Lipetzky and others in the vicinity were gravely injured. After another ship was able to rescue survivors aboard, the vessel sank.
“They never did find his body,” Anderson said.
Lipetzky, raised with six siblings on a farm near Kensal, N.D., was just 22.
He was declared dead one year and one day later, customary for service members missing in action or whose remains haven’t been recovered.
'The adventurous one'
That later date is reflected on Lipetzky’s memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where nieces and nephews will gather on Tuesday, June 11, in his honor.
Nephew Mark Sellner said a bugler from the U.S. Navy Band will pay taps during the service. “It’s just a great opportunity to remember a North Dakota native son,” Sellner said.
Cletus Foy Lipetzky was born in Kensal on Jan. 26, 1922, the son of John and Mary Lipetzky. He graduated high school in 1940, and left the family farm a year later for a banking job in California. He also enlisted in the Navy.
“He was the adventurous one,” Anderson said.
Sellner said according to his mother, the late Dolores Sellner, Lipetzky went to Minneapolis at the start of a four-day pass from the Navy in the spring of 1944.
Instead of staying there, Dolores convinced her brother to travel by train all night, back home to the farmstead near Kensal, a town about 120 miles northwest of Fargo.
It was the last time family members saw him before that fateful day a few months later. The cousins think about the dangers their uncle faced, along with countless others.
“It had to be just frightening to a young farm boy from North Dakota, you know, and wondering what’s going to happen,” Anderson said.
'We haven't forgotten'
A memorial for Lipetzky was held at a Kensal church in February 1945, but a blizzard kept many family and friends from attending, according to Sellner.
Lipetzky has two living siblings: brother Bill Lipetzky, 93, a WWII U.S. Navy veteran living in Jamestown, N.D., and sister Mary Fredrickson, 95, of Waite Park, Minn.
Bill Lipetzky’s son, Bill Jr., 69, also of Jamestown, is among the cousins gathering in D.C. for their uncle’s memorial service. “I wish I would have got to know him,” Lipetzky Jr. said of his uncle Cletus.
In addition to attending the memorial service Tuesday, the cousins will visit North Dakota congressional delegation offices, as well as monuments and memorials.
“It’s our way of saying ‘Cletus, we haven’t forgotten about you,’” Nieland said.