|Red Wings defenseman Ian White visited his White's Warriors guests - Donald and Rose Fritz of Traverse City, Mich. - during Sunday's game at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Alexa Hinds) |
wasn’t much of a history buff while growing up in Steinbach, Manitoba. But by the time he was in his late teens the Red Wings’ defenseman began absorbing stories told by family members of his grandfather’s involve in World War II.
“He was actually pretty quiet about the whole experience, I guess a lot of them are,” White said of his grandpa, who was part of the D-Day invasion on the shores of Normandy with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. “But once you’re old enough to start remembering stuff you hear things for sure.”
It’s those memories that made Sunday’s meet-and-greet with Corporal Donald Fritz even more special.
See for White, who has given a pair of tickets to U.S. and Canadian military personnel for each Wings regular-season home game this season, Sunday’s guest brought home particular thoughts of his grandpa’s war stories.
Like White’s grandpa, Cpl. Fritz – albeit with the U.S. Army’s 306th Military Police Escort Guard – was also in Normandy fighting the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.
Originally assigned to guard Japanese prisoners taken from the Aleutians to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, Fritz was later ordered to England, where he landed on Utah Beach on June 8, 1944. Once in France, Fritz’s guard unit oversaw the first POW camp of German prisoners taken from the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, which had been established by the First Ranger Battalion.
In all, Fritz, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next month, participated in three European campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland. His duties included collecting prisoners and establishing camps, where he was responsible for guarding up to 5,000 German prisoners.
Luckily for Donald Fritz and Rose, his wife of 69-years, the two lifelong Wings’ fans didn’t have to wait long before they meet their host. White, who was healthy scratch for Sunday’s game against Florida, surprised the Fritzes with an unscheduled visit to their lower bowl seats during the game.
“He’s obviously a great story and it was great to see him come down here,” White said.
It’s hard to know who enjoyed Sunday’s visit the most, but being the grandson of a WWII veteran is a huge sense of pride for White, who has enjoyed meeting each and every veteran this season.
“Without question, yes, especially when you have a family member who is fighting for the life that we’re allowed to live today is pretty special,” he said. “Pretty much each and every one of their experiences is amazing to hear, whether it was World War II or more recently Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s really hard to imagine what they go through on a daily basis.
“It’s hard to hear what guys are going through every day and how they’re fighting over there and basically sacrificing their lives for our freedoms and our values. It’s tough to say that I could do it, but it’s amazing what they do.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose