Editor’s note: Robert M. Lepo is son of Joe Lepo.
As a youth, my father’s parents photo albums would reflect his military service during World War II. That began my curiosity of his experiences but he was tight lipped about the subject for good reason. He encouraged me to read other veterans’ personal stories that were in his personal library. Those readings revealed the horrors of that war and the reason for his silence.
The subject was relived when I entered college during the height of the Vietnam conflict and the Kent State killings. I witnessed that incident as a freshman and was forced home that spring.
All those events led to questions about a film of the Nazi concentration camps I came across in my cinematography class. His response, ’’It’s all true, it happened, and I was there,’’ sent chills through my soul. His 13th Black Cat armored division had crossed the Rhine River into Germany with Gen. Patton and rushed forward through towns flattened by our air strength. That’s when a pungent smell led them to their first concentration camp. They were outside almost every town, abandoned by the Germans ahead of our advance, except for the surviving prisoners, ghostlike human shells too weak to move. That smell continued to the end of the war until I returned to United States to smell something different. When I asked what, he responded “the smell of freedom.”