Stories that make you say wow!

What's left of Frank & Alice Pitchler's Eastlake home.

What's left of Frank & Alice Pitchler's Eastlake home.

 {EDITORS NOTE:  The explosion that rocked Cleveland’s west side comes one year to the week after a gas explosion in Eastlake.  A story that one year later still makes me say WOW!} 

Every once in a while in this line of work you’re hit with a story where you just continuously say WOW.   The explosion of the Eastlake home of Frank and Alice Pitchler is one of those stories. 

The calls to the newsroom that night were about an earthquake, followed immediatly by scanner chatter about a housefire.  They were one in the same.  When I first arrived on the scene I couldn’t believe it, their was no house.  Then I learned that Frank and Alice, who were in their 80s actually survived the explosion and that Frank was, believe it or not, still sitting in his recliner, covered in debris with his home gone around him, when the first of his neighbors ran to his aid.

My wows only continued the next day when they pulled their little dog, a Yorkie, from the rubble alive and I also learned their son John was Fire Chief in University Heights.  The biggest wow was for the picture John painted of his parents and what they went through just to start their life together.

Frank and Alice Pitchler met in England during World War II, he was a Sergeant in the Army and she was a nurse who also drove double decker buses.  It was during this time that Alice survived a blast when a bomb, dropped from a plane, exploded destroying the theater that she was in.  Her son says she only lived because a man who was killed landed on top of her and saved her life.  Sadly, behind the theater was a school where 150 students were killed.

As Frank and Alice fell in love a Colonel gave the young Sergeant some valuable advice “he says if you want to marry this woman then we gotta get her,” his son John says.  “They brought her in through the camp and they had her married the day before they went out to fight,” he said.  Where Frank was headed you see was to Normandy and Omaha Beach.

Frank Pitchler was one of the boys of Pointe du Hoc, a Normandy Invader but as he stormed that beach in Northern France word reached his new bride back in England that her husband, like so many of his comrades on D-Day had died.  She wouldn’t believe it her son said, “so she lit candles every night at the church and prayed for him to be alive.” 

Frank, she would soon learn, did survive D-Day and would go onto fight in the Battle of the Bulge before returning to Northeast Ohio with Alice to start a family.   

When the blast happened and the first responders reached Frank they said his only concern was not for himself but for his wife.  Alice was seriously injured but at the hospital.  Before taking a turn for the worse the Doctor’s told her that Frank was okay and when they did her son says, she closed her eyes and you could see the relief on her face.  She died a short time later.

In television the pictures rule and we often spend too much time focusing on how someone was injured or how someone died.   It’s only when you look at how they lived that you often get the better story.


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