Metal canteen from Battle of the Bulge a token of love

Love always finds a way. This Valentine’s Day, a token of a long-lost love — an aluminum military canteen — is returning to 92-year-old Elizabeth Pitner of North Strabane. It belonged to her late first husband, Lt. Wallace Lippincott Jr., a U.S. Army tank commander in the 712th Tank Battalion during World War II.

Lt. Lippincott was sent overseas in August 1944 and was killed on Jan. 14, 1945, in Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge. 

In that Luxembourg woods, six German antitank guns found his company. A direct hit to the lead tank took the lives of the driver, the loader — and Lt. Lippincott, who was 25 years old.

The couple had been married less than two years when Ms. Pitner received word of her husband's death. 

A few of her husband's personal effects had been salvaged, she was told. But as she was awaiting their arrival, she received word from the Army that the facility holding them had been destroyed by a fire.

All that remained of her husband's service was the Western Union telegram announcing his death, condolence notes, his Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal and love letters that he had written to her nearly every day from the front lines — some of which she received after he had been killed.

“It was very emotional for me,” she recalled. "I refused to believe it for a while, but that was a shock to keep getting letters from him.”

Now, 69 years later, her first love is reaching out to her again.

While on a trip to Luxembourg in June 2012, Vernon Schmidt — a veteran from Fresno, Calif. — stopped by the village of Berle to visit a small museum run by a local family. It was filled with German and American artifacts found in the woods surrounding the area. The display included a number of canteens.

One in particular caught the eye of the Mr. Schmidt — who had ridden on the tanks of the 712th Battalion during WWII. He noted that it had an officer’s name, rank, battalion and the words “Sauer Kraut” etched on it.

It was Lt. Lippincott’s.

Knowing that the veteran was familiar with the battalion, the museum owner gave the canteen to him in hopes that he could track down a Lippincott family member in the U.S.

Mr. Schmidt found Lt. Lippincott’s great nephew, Ted Nobles of Middletown, Del., and sent him the canteen in December. Ms. Pitner’s daughter, Betsy Lowe of Harleysville, Pa., gave her the news.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ms. Pitner said. “After all these years.”

She had met Lt. Lippincott during their junior year at the University of Delaware. He was a pre-law major and both were studying economics. She was from Chester, Md., and he was from nearby Swarthmore, so they would drive home together on breaks in his Ford Phaeton.

“It was love at first sight,” she said. “He was so much fun.”

He worked in the campus dining hall where Ms. Pitner said she would move the chairs so he could sweep under them. They spent many afternoons together and enjoyed flying kites, she recalled.

On Dec. 7, 1941, they were studying in the library when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Ms. Pitner said she remembers it like it was yesterday.

“They all said, ‘We don’t need to study for that test next week. We are all going to be in the war,’” she said.

Though he was raised a Quaker, Lt. Lippincott had a strong desire to help, Ms. Pitner said.

“He wanted to go,” she said. “He said it was like going out for football and sitting on the bench.”

He joined ROTC, and then enlisted after graduation. The two were married in September 1943 and by September 1944, he was stationed at Fort Dix in Trenton, N.J., where he awaited his orders.

Lt. Lippincott is buried in the American Military Cemetery near Luxembourg City, alongside his comrades.

Ms. Pitner went on to marry Craton Pitner, who was a chemical engineer and Navy veteran. She said she knew Lt. Lippincott would have wanted her to remarry because she wanted to have a family. The Pitners were married 56 years and have three children.

Decades have passed, but tears still well in Ms. Pitner’s eyes as she talked about Lt. Lippincott. Though she still feels the sting of the loss, hope has been stirred as she anxiously awaits the arrival of the canteen — a connection to her husband that will finally make its way home.

“I’ll be so glad to hold it,” she said. “What a long trail it was.”

Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:

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