THE FOUR STAR GERMAN AMERICAN FAMILY
Hildenbrand Sr. came from Germany to Ellis Island, New York in 1927 along with his four boys -- Rudy, age 7, Eric, age 6,
Carl, age 5 and Herby, age 4. Rosa Hildenbrand [Rieker], his wife, came the following
5, 1928 on the USS Columbus.
They settled in Philadelphia
where they raised their four children and learned to speak English. Rudolph Sr.
got a job at the Wilkening Mfg. Company, in Philadelphia. Eric and Rudy later
worked at the same plant. Rosa, a housewife,
stayed home and took care of the boys. She also raised pedigree dogs. By looking at the family pictures, they seemed to be a happy and prosperous family
living the American dream.
But in the late thirties, Hitler came into power in Germany and started a war with Europe
which caused significant problems for German immigrants. In December 1941, Japan
invaded Pearl Harbor causing America
to declare war with Germany and Japan. Rudolph, Dutch's father, registered for the draft at age 49.
Rudy the oldest boy, enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 8, 1941.
He became a gunner and assistant radio operator on a B-17 [known as the Flying
Fortress]. He was stationed in England, where he flew bombing missions over Germany.
He flew many missions and received a Presidential Citation. He survived the war with flying colors.
Eric entered the Marines in 1942 with his buddy Robert Bodine, who turned out to be a life long family friend. In 1944,
they went to the Solomon Islands to fight the Japanese; Robert
Bodine contracted malaria while he there and was left behind. Eric’s troops boarded a transport ship [U.S.S. McKean]
to be transported to another island in November. While the ship was in route,
off the coast of Bougainville, the USS. McKean was attacked by a Japanese fighter plane. The USS McKean was directly hit and Eric was killed on November 17. The ship sunk. Of 185 Marines on
board, 52 were killed. Unfortunately, Eric was one. There also were 153 Navy personnel on board, 64 of whom
were killed. Total death toll was 116.
Dutch, at age 20, married Catherine Rush [Cass], a girl from south west Philly.
They met while she was a waitress at a restaurant. In June 1943, Dutch entered the Army, leaving behind a pregnant
wife [Cass] and a child [Kathleen] age 6 months. In late November 1943, he was shipped out and briefly stationed in North
Africa not yet aware of Eric’s death. In early January 1944,
the 36 infantry division 141st, of which Dutch was a member, went
to fight in the Italian campaign. He was captured at the Battle of Cassino. Dutch
was taken prisoner of war [P.O.W.] at Stalag 2b in Germany
[now Poland]. He remained there; almost until the end of the
Herbie, the youngest of the four Hildenbrand sons, entered the Navy in 1944.