I met Eake De Marco 75 years after he died.
Pfc. De Marco made the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and is buried at the American Cemetery and Memorial above Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Long on my bucket list, I traveled there to say thanks to the men who stormed Hitler’s Fortress Europe and bought my freedom with their lives. My April 9 cemetery visit concluded a day of sightseeing American battlegrounds, including Omaha and Utah Beaches.
The tombstones reveal only a soldier’s name, rank, military outfit, home state, and date of death. When I saw that Pfc. De Marco was from my state of Pennsylvania, I chose to thank him as a representative of the other 9,379 heroes buried there. I connected with him and wondered if he was forgotten.
A quick Google search told me that Pfc. De Marco, 22, had been awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. I didn’t explore further because he was not central to my story, published in The Inquirer on June 2.
Through that story, Ed Mikus met Pfc. De Marco and was spurred to action.
Two weeks later I received a USPS box about the size of a small briefcase from Mikus, who lives in Mayfair.
Inside was an amazing 70-page, document-stuffed booklet about Pfc. De Marco, his entire military and personal history. I learned he was 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, had a birthmark on his right cheek, was one of 12 siblings, was raised by an aunt and uncle in Reading, survived the invasion of Sicily, and was quoted in the Pottsville Republican as saying Sicilians had treated Americans very well.
Mikus also created a handsome display case containing the medals Pfc. De Marco would have worn. I was stunned by what Mikus, 65, an amateur military historian, had done — and not for the first time.
Retired after 35 years with the U.S. Postal Service, Mikus has a degree in education history from Kutztown University. He also has an insatiable curiosity, patience, determination, and a good heart. He has but one complaint: When he gets paperwork from the military, “it’s never in order.” He has to spread out the pages and get them into chronological order.
More than a decade ago he started researching military people as a hobby. He’s researched “at least 100” of them for friends, relatives, and co-workers, he says. He does it free.
In May 2018, I had written a Memorial Day column about an oddity, a tombstone in a Beverly military cemetery engraved with a Christian cross and a Star of David. In the grave are two coffins containing the remains of two B-17 airmen, brothers in arms who died in a raid over Germany.
The two men were Staff Sgt. Chester Bartoszewicz and Staff Sgt. Solomon Bernstein. I reported what I knew about the men, which wasn’t much.
A year later, out of the blue, I received biographical booklets on Bernstein and Bartoszewicz from Mikus, who explained it was his hobby when I called to thank him. I didn’t think our paths would cross again.
I was wrong.
When he surprised me with the biography of Pfc. De Marco, I asked if he could find any surviving family. I thought the display case should go to them.
Mikus, who sometimes is helped by his wife, Deb, 64, a librarian, cheerfully accepted the assignment. Within two weeks he found Camille De Marco, 60, in Sinking Spring, Berks County. She is Pfc. De Marco’s niece, the daughter of De Marco’s brother James, who served in the Navy. Another brother, Michael, served in the Coast Guard. Camille is the family historian.
From Camille I learned that family members have visited Pfc. De Marco’s grave several times. He is not forgotten.
Sometime soon I will pick up Mikus and drive to Sinking Spring and present Camille with the display case he made for me.