WWII War Message Donated to VMI

Thursday, October 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) — Bob Fichenberg happened to be the lieutenant on duty in the code room in Nancy, France, when a Teletype message from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower arrived announcing Germany's surrender in World War II.

Fichenberg forwarded the message to army commanders, per Eisenhower's orders, then stuffed the document into his uniform pocket.

``I thought, 'This might make a good souvenir,''' Fichenberg said. ``I put it in my pocket and forgot about it.''

The message was discovered more than 50 years later in Fichenberg's old footlocker, still in the pocket where he had put it.

On Wednesday, the original Teletype message Fichenberg took on May 7, 1945, was given to Virginia Military Institute for display in its museum.

But Fichenberg, a retired news reporter and editor, wasn't the one to donate the document. Instead, it found its way to VMI through an unlikely turn of events.

Fichenberg's footlocker was stored in his mother's attic in New Jersey until she died, and then it wound up in the attic of Fichenberg's brother. One day in 1997, his brother looked through the locker and came across the document. He decided to put it up for auction, telling Fichenberg about it after he had already turned it over to the auction house.

``I would have never auctioned it,'' Fichenberg, who now lives in Mt. Vernon, said Wednesday. ``It was beyond price to me.''

Sanford J. Mock of Beverly Hills, Calif., bought the piece of paper at a New York auction house in October 1997 for about $5,000. He added it to his collection of Eisenhower letters.

``At the time, I didn't really realize the impact of this particular document,'' Mock said. ``It came to me later that this was more valuable than I imagined. It's worth a great deal more than what I paid for it.''

By virtue of his friendship with Haley Garrison of Williamsburg, another rare documents collector and 1961 VMI graduate, Mock agreed to present the WWII document for display at the VMI Museum.

``It hit me like a ton of bricks,'' Garrison said of the first time he saw the message. ``When I touched this document, I felt an electricity. ``This is the thing that stopped all the bloodshed. I think it's fitting for it to be here at VMI, which gave a considerable amount of its sons in the second World War.''

Gen. Josiah Bunting III, superintendent of VMI, said the document will serve as an inspiration to cadets and faculty.

The document changed hands in a small ceremony at Bunting's home on the post. Mock also gave VMI some handwritten Eisenhower letters and an original Philadelphia Evening Bulletin newspaper dated May 7, 1945, that announced the end of the war.

``Anything that connects VMI with service to our country and its past, particularly with World War II, is wonderful,'' Bunting said.

An Associated Press reporter, Edward Kennedy, scooped the press release and wired the news home to the United States. He was expelled from the European Theater for doing so.

In the end, Fichenberg, who declined to reveal his age, still wished he had the document. He said he was disappointed by what his brother did but was happy the document ended up at VMI.

``If it can't be in my den, then that's where it ought to be,'' he said.


On the Net:

Virginia Military Institute: http://www.vmi.edu