For N.H. WWII veteran Bill Krummel, remembering can be a real eye-opener

  • Bill Krummel, 93, of Newbury searches for thoughts and words to describe what he did during World War II. Krummel tuned in to German signals to help bombers root out and destroy submarines off the U.S.’s Atlantic coast. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bill Krummel sits at Hillsboro House on Saturday recalling his World War II memories. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bill Krummel sits with his wife, Caroline, at the Hillsboro House on Saturday with photos from their 74-year marriage. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bill Krummel visits with his wife of 74 years, Caroline, at Hillsboro House on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/29/2017 12:09:26 AM

Bill Krummel, who’s 93, shut his eyes tightly to see.
   Over and over again.

He searched the deep corners of his mind during an hour-plus conversation, looking for thoughts and words and images to describe what he did during World War II.

He saw his ship, an escort carrier, with its dozen planes and pilots waiting for Krummel to provide key information. They wanted to know where to drop their bombs to destroy German U-boats on the Atlantic coast of the United States.

An oil slick from the Nazi leviathan would tell him if he’d done his job well.

Krummel, tuned in to German signals, became a pioneering member of the U.S. homeland security team, 60 years before Sept. 11.

It’s a part of the war discussed far less often than Pearl Harbor or D-Day. But we lost thousands of sailors and citizens off our coasts, the ships sometimes exploding within sight of land.

This was Krummel’s little part of the war. There is always something new to learn.

“A lot of people never realized it, but subs were raising hell off of Long Island,” Krummel told me. “So we were like, ‘boom, boom, boom,’ and then got out. We had to get them, and we did.”

Most of the men who fought the Germans and the Japanese in the 1940s are gone now. They’re being honored today, Memorial Day, along with those like Krummel, who remains plenty sharp to bring us back in time.

He was visiting his wife, Caroline, whom he married 74 years ago, at Hillsboro House, a senior care facility. It has room for just 33 residents, but enough charm to serve as a New England-promoting postcard, with trees, screened-in porches, wicker outdoor furniture and a fireplace.

Krummel’s voice is another chapter in a book that never gets dull, no matter how many times we read it. World War II is like that, and Krummel is part of it, part of what is known as the Greatest Generation.

“He’s my hero,” said Hillsboro House resident Rob Holmes, who told the Monitor that his friend would make a good story. “They didn’t play around in that war. It was a full measure of devotion. There was nobody like these guys.”

To which Krummel said, “We did what we had to do.”

Those words, their meaning, echo throughout the country’s aging community of World War II veterans. They endured the worst conditions imaginable and kept it to themselves for decades. Only in recent years have many veterans from the 1940s begun to open up about what they saw and felt.

“The only thing I think about today is how I did it,” Krummel said. “I guess I rose to each occasion.”

He’s a native New Yorker, raised on Long Island, the area he would later protect. Krummel lives full time now in a cottage in Newbury, which had been the family’s summer spot since the 1950s.

He and Caroline met at church on Long Island and married, at 18 years old, on June 28, 1943, shortly after Krummel returned home from boot camp, just weeks before he shipped out.

He loved Caroline, of course, and admitted, smiling, that the extra $15 he received each week from the military for being married didn’t hurt.

It was a love story, the perfect American war story, with the husband shipping out of Norfolk, Va., to patrol the East Coast of the United States, and the wife working at Grumman in New York, earning the nickname of Rosie the Riveter, a national symbol of female strength during the war.

In fact, their two daughters once dressed like Rosie for Halloween, a clear tribute to mom.

“We actually built the planes that flew,” Caroline, who’s also 93, said proudly from her wheelchair.

Some of those planes needed direction, and Krummel was one of the people who provided it. He took typing in high school, making him perfect for the role of direction finder – the man who, after learning Morse code during training , eavesdropped on U-boat messages in the North and South Atlantic.

He’d intercept messages from a surfaced sub to other subs, perhaps weather reports transmitted at night, when the signals were strongest. Then he’d pass it on to the quartermaster. From there, the information moved to the captain, then to the pilots, who stood ready on the escort carrier, waiting to fly their planes, hoping their bombs would cause a major explosion, hoping to produce an oil slick that would reveal success.

“Burglar 5400,” Krummel might say, telling others that the Nazis were nearby, and the radio frequency involved.

He watched planes go down, planes carrying pilots he knew. His carrier brought POWs to Casablanca, continuing its mission to find subs along the way, always in danger of getting hit by a torpedo and sinking. It also picked up Americans killed during these sea battles.

“We picked up some off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina,” Krummel said. “We’d be told to bury them at sea. We’d use wooden caskets and drape an American flag on top, then let them go.”

He was a banker after the war, 44 years riding buses and trains and subways from Long Island to Wall Street in Manhattan. His wife has slowed recently, so she’s cared for now in Hillsboro. Krummel visits nearly every day.

He drives himself.

I asked Krummel how a person could handle such terror and sadness during the war. He said his age had something to do with it. He said his mortality, perhaps, remained in the background, not seeming real, despite all the death that surrounded him.

“Today looking back, at 18, I didn’t know beans from barley,” Krummel said. “What do you know in high school? You didn’t see the world.”

As Krummel spoke, his eyes were shut, his vision perfectly clear.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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