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'Chasing Grandpa'

Cary Ashby • Aug 4, 2019 at 10:00 PM

NORTH FAIRFIELD — It’s fitting that the late William Dale Ebinger’s grandson made a presentation Thursday about his World War II experiences at the American Legion in North Fairfield.

Ebinger, who served in the First Engineer Special Brigade in the U.S. Army, helped construct the building. He also was a charter member of the American Legion and the North Fairfield mayor. Ebinger, who was known in the community as Dale, died Sept. 25, 2017 at the age of 93.

For his grandson, Ebinger was Grandpa.

History enthusiast Eric Ebinger presented “Chasing Grandpa: 75 Years Later” to nearly 135 people at the American Legion.

“It’s a bad title,” he told the crowd. “We weren’t chasing Grandpa. … He was right behind us.” 

Filled with facts about World War II and anecdotes about his grandfather, the presentation was based on a Smithsonian Institute trip to Europe that Ebinger and his wife Misty made in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 

Calling the experience “the trip of a lifetime,” Ebinger said it ended up being a nearly “step-by-step” voyage in four months of his grandfather’s life. 

The couple nearly didn’t make the cut. After signing up, he was told they were fourth on the waiting list. Upon checking on the progress a few weeks later, he learned he and his wife were actually 40th. However, the organizers later added a second bus.

“We were the only people on the bus with a family connection,” said Ebinger, who promised his wife they wouldn’t dominate the trip with tales of his grandfather.

Then Ruth Earl, curator of the North Fairfield Museum, introduced Ebinger.

“I know a lot of you know Eric because you’re related to him,” said Earl, the self-professed North Fairfield historian. “I realized I didn’t need to introduce (him) because everybody knows Eric.”

Many Ebinger family members attended the presentation, in addition to Ebinger’s wife Misty, his father and mother, Gary and Judy, of Norwalk, who were there. Also in attendance were: an aunt, Deanna Ranker, of Vermilion; sisters Wendy Sunderman, of Findlay, and Dawn Ziegler, of Avon, and many other extended family members.

Ebinger said many people knew his grandfather as “an old man,” but he hoped it would be fun to know him as a young man. 

“He didn’t start talking about the war until 2001 or ‘02,” he added. “He would add stories now and then.”

Dale Ebinger was 19 years old when he enlisted in the Army. He was in the fourth wave of soldiers who landed on Utah Beach in France, part of the Normandy Invasion on D-Day (June 6, 1944). 

“Grandpa landed at 7:30 a.m.,” his grandson said.

Dale ended up meeting Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who Ebinger said his grandfather credited with determining the solidiers were “way off” their intended landing site.

His grandfather finally came home Christmas morning of 1945; exactly one week later, W.L. Meade offered him a job as a truck driver. Eric said the job was “lined up” for his grandfather when he returned from the war — which probably saved his life — compared to other WWII veterans who couldn’t find work.

“And it was quite a life,” he added.

Moments after Eric and Misty Ebinger walked along Utah Beach on June 4, there was a flyover. He said many vintage planes flew over the area over the course of several hours — one of many experiences during the trip that told him his grandfather’s spirit was with them. The traveling group ended up visiting areas in France where the public normally isn’t allowed, often by pure coincidence.

When Ebinger and his wife returned home to New London, many people asked him how their trip was.

“I could think of one word: ordained,” he said. “Every single moment was ordained.”

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