By Mary Drier
UNIONVILLE — A small act of kindness decades ago by a U.S. soldier to a prisoner of war was never forgotten, and was commemorated Sunday along with honoring veterans, those missing in action, prisoners of war and Gold Star Mothers.
For 67 years Stephen Ross looked for a soldier who shared his food with him when he was starving, who gave him a handkerchief-sized American flag, and showed him kindness after years of being beaten, starved, having medical experiments done on him, and more.
Ross was so grateful to that soldier he kissed his boots and spent over six decades trying to find that man, who turned out to be Steve Sattler, a farmer from Unionville.
Sattler was a member of the 191st Tank Battalion who was part of the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp on April 29, 1945.
Sattler wasn’t able to be part of the long-awaited reunion. He died in 1986, but several of his family members traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, to meet Ross, 81, for a special Veterans Day ceremony there.
Sattler’s son, Jim, was one of several family members who attended the event.
“Dad never wanted to talk much about his (World War II) experiences,” said Jim Sattler. “Over the years he did tell a few of us about his helping with the liberation of the concentration camp Dachau, of a starving boy he helped and wanting to be able to do more.”
That brief memory of a soldier’s compassion and a handkerchief-sized flag are all of the “good things” Ross has from his childhood. He and his brother were the only members of his family who survived the war.
“He told of hiding out in the bottom of an outhouse up to his neck in waste and about hiding under a train car to escape being killed,” said Jim Sattler. “It bothers him that he survived when so many others didn’t.”
Ross was about 14 years old when Dachau was liberated.
“He had been in concentration camps since he was about nine years old,” said Sattler.
Dachau was the 10th concentration camp where Ross was housed with about 67,665 others by the German government. The Dachau camp was a training center for Nazi SS concentration camp guards. The camp’s organization and routine became the model for all Nazi concentration camps.
Ross spent years trying to track down a kind soldier that helped save his life. He even went on the television show “Unsolved Mysteries” in an effort to reconnect with him.
Fortunately Sattler’s granddaughter Brenda Clark saw the program and remembered a similar story her grandfather had told some family members. She contacted Ross and the two families started comparing information and photographs. Everything seemed to line up that the two men had met.
“It’s amazing how things worked out for us to get connected,” said Sattler. “God had his finger on these two men back then and now. Off all of the prisoners of war my dad helped — especially this one man, and he still remembers it all these years. It is touching … unbelievably touching.”
Ross has never forgotten Sattler or the many other soldiers who helped put an end to that war.
“A few years ago, I completed a speaking engagement at the reunion of the 191st Tank Battalion in Louisville, Kentucky. Being with these men, who were so closely connected to my wretched past, rekindled the very strong feelings I have for the American soldier,” said Ross. “This great group of veterans granted me the privilege of becoming a member of their association.”
Ross not only thanked the Sattler family but all Word War II veterans.
“You deserve so much praise and credit for ending the war and for all your sacrifices during World War ll. As our liberators, you will always be remembered by the camp survivors for your gallantry, for the hope and compassion, and care you provided to us in such a tragic time in our lives.
“I hate to think of what would have happened to us if you had not come at the time you did. You, the GI Joes, spoke the first kind words to us in years. You held in your arms living skeletons too weak to walk too weak to eat, and (nearly) too weak to live.”
As a small token of his enduring gratitude, Ross gave the Sattler family an American flag.
Ross made the most of the new lease on life he was given. As part of the U.S. Committee for Orphaned Children, Ross came to America in 1948. According to Sattler, Ross went on to become a psychologist and a founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial. And, Ross’ son, Michael P. Ross, is the Boston City councilor.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at email@example.com.