Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Robert Dembowski remembered

It was tough to learn of the death of Army Pfc. Bob Dembowski Jr., who was 20 when he was killed in Iraq a few days ago.

Tough, because I had talked to him and written about him in June 2005, just a few days before he graduated from Council Rock. He was headed to boot camp at the time.

I met him a few weeks before at a memorial dedication at the Chancellor Center. He had addressed veterans and the families of 11 men from Newtown who were killed in World War II.

He told the veterans there that he was proud to follow in their path. Afterward, a white-haired Marine came up to him, shook his hand, wished him well, removed his red Marines baseball cap, and gave it to him.

When I went to Bob's house Friday to give my condolences to his parents, his mother, Fran, retrieved the cap from his bedroom. We talked at the dining room table. The cap was in front of us.

That's when they told me about a woman they know only as “the Battery Lady.”

“We always wanted to meet her, but we don't know who she is,” Fran said.

She touched Bob's life shortly before he left for Iraq.

Bob was in his Army fatigues and had stopped to get gas at a Gulf station in Richboro.

“He was talking to the lady on the other side of the pump,” Fran said. “She thanked him for serving in the military. She told him she had a family and she really appreciated his service to the country. For Bobby, that was a gift, that woman thanking him.

“So he gets into his car,” Bob Sr. said. “It wouldn't start. So he got out and went to the attendant. So the attendant came out, looked at the car and said, "Looks like you need a new battery.' ”

Fran said: “Bobby didn't have the money on him. He was probably going to have to call us to help him.”

Meanwhile, the woman next to him went to pay for her gas. She asked the attendant what was wrong with Bob's car. The attendant said it needed a battery.

“The woman said, "Put it on my card with my gas,' ” Bob Sr. recalled. “She left without telling Bobby what she did. So the attendant says to him, "That lady who just left, she just bought you a battery.' ”

The woman didn't leave her name.

“Bobby always wanted to thank her. Most people wouldn't have done it. I don't know if all she thinks she did was buy a battery,” Fran said. “It was more than that.

“Bobby was a regular teenager going through a lot of teenage issues at the time, thinking the world was a really bad place and people were bad. But when he came home from the gas station, he couldn't wait to tell us. He said, "Mom, there are really good people in this world.' It changed him.

“I have always prayed for that woman, whoever she is. She could not know what she did,” Fran said. “It wasn't just a battery. Bobby said that somehow he would repay it. He said, "Mom, I don't know how to get in touch with her, but somehow I will and it will be taken care of, because she took care of me when I needed it. I'm going to do good for other people.' ”

As the Dembowskis waited for Army officers to arrive to give them the details of Bobby's death, the stranger's act of kindness to their son gave them comfort.

From the Courier Times

Related Link:
Robert H. Dembowski dies of 'wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire'