HUDSON, Ohio — Family history can come together like a puzzle, so when a piece goes missing, it can be maddening for someone trying to find out more about their loved one. A Hudson woman was able to piece things together, finding a missing piece of her father's military history she didn’t even know had been missing.
Karen Stenger Baglieri had always been proud of her father, Joseph Stenger, and his military history, knowing he had fought in World War II, but that was about all she knew.
Stenger died in 1956 when Karen was just 15 months old. Memories of her father were handed down in bits and pieces through stories. But in December 2019, she heard the biggest one yet.
Historians had recognized Stenger as a member of the “First Special Service Force,” a unique, elite fighting unit in World War II. It combined American and Canadian soldiers.
Every modern-day special forces unit can trace its roots to this group. About 1,800 men were hand-selected, recruited and trained for the special operations.
They used those skills in battle, they accounted for 12,000 German causalities and 7,000 more who were captured. The enemy called this unit “The Black Devil” or “The Devil’s Brigade.”
“The attrition rate was about 90% was the estimate, which meant that only 10% or fewer of these men would make it home,” said a representative of First Special Service Force Museum in Montana.
The men in this unit were honored on Capitol Hill in Washington. In 2015, U.S. House and Senate leaders awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the unit.
“For these men saved the free world and are now free to savor the triumph and to share their stories for years to come,” said Rep. John Boehner said in 2015.
In August, with the new information about Joseph Stenger, the family met in Illinois at his grave. Family from all over the country and from Northeast Ohio gathered for an official military ceremony.
The recognition that her father was part of a special unit, and having a big chunk of family history revealed, meant the world to Karen.
“When that officer gave me that flag, I just, it was so soul-deep connection with my father, that in my mind I just kept hearing, ‘Oh Daddy, Oh Daddy…’ and it was just… it was more than I could have ever imagined. It was beautiful," she said.
Karen said a piece that was missing from her family history and her heart have been filled.
“Yes. The hole that was there, is filled. I’m living with great anticipation of meeting my Dad someday, and just being able to share stories with him, and find out more about him,” she said.
Find more info on the First Special Service Force here.
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