With the ranks of the 130,000 American GIs captured during World War II dwindling fast, Allen Krietsch worked to help those still alive these 69 years after the fighting stopped.
The East Northport resident, who was 90 when he died at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport July 23 of complications after a fall, lent an understanding ear to fellow World War II POWs battling feelings of anxiety, shame or guilt related to their wartime captivity.
"Believe me, coming home as a POW is mind boggling," said Stephen Kirtyan, 90, of Malverne, a fellow World War II captive whom Krietsch recruited into the Long Island chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War about 15 years ago while helping Kirtyan fill out VA paperwork. "You're ashamed of having been captured. But Allen probably went through what I went through."
"We talked," Kirtyan said. "He meant quite a bit to me, having the camaraderie of someone who went through the same thing you did."
Fellow POWs said Krietsch was a driving force with the POW organization. He was also an eager volunteer at the medical center, informing veterans of medical and disability benefits some had been ignorant of for more than 50 years.
But as have many of the estimated 10,000 remaining World War II POWs -- all near 90 or older -- Krietsch kept the painful memories of survival as a Nazi prisoner mostly to himself until the last years of his life.
In a 2008 Newsday interview, Krietsch said sharing his memories finally helped shatter their traumatizing grip.
"You were miserable all the time," Krietsch said of the fear, hunger, filth and despair of his year in captivity. "I never thought I'd get home again."
"I'm talking about it to you more than I talk about it to my family," Krietsch said.
Born in Oldenburg, Germany, he immigrated to Staten Island before he was 2.
Drafted in 1943, Krietsch was among paratroopers of the 505th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division who dropped into the predawn darkness during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.
His unit was captured by German troops almost immediately. Marched from the French coastline to Paris, he and other captives were loaded into boxcars and transported east to the Stalag IV-B POW camp near the Polish border, north of Dresden. While in transit, Allied planes mistakenly strafed the train, killing several of his fellow prisoners.
Krietsch was liberated by Soviet troops on April 25, 1945, and married Anne Augustine, a prewar co-worker of his at the U.S. Radium Corp., four months later. They moved to East Northport in 1955, raising three children. He began volunteering at the VA Medical Center after his 1985 retirement from a wholesale flower business he ran in Maspeth, Queens.
Survivors include sons Christopher Krietsch, of East Northport, and Geoffrey Krietsch, of Queens Village; and a sister, Ellie Peterson, of Kingwood, Texas. Krietsch was buried at Long Island National Cemetery, in Farmingdale. His wife died in 2011.