Wisconsin man solves mystery of his dad’s WWII photo

Jerry Huffman’s father, Paul, wrote on the back of his May 1945 picture that it should be kept quiet. The then-18-year-old soldier didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about the snapshot.

It was taken in a small Czechoslovakia city of Blatna on the day the war ended.

And for 73 years, it’s been kept quiet. But the Wisconsin man wondered who the woman was and whether she’s still alive so he wrote to the Czech Republic ambassador in Washington for help and his letter was printed in a local newspaper.

The people in Blatna recognized her right away. Blazena Hrabetova is a living link to Huffman’s father because she’s still alive.

Huffman leaves on Friday to attend next Tuesday’s Liberation Day celebration in the town where Huffman will give her the photo.

“Seventy-three years ago, I suspect my dad left a big part of his heart with the good souls of Blatna,” he writes on a GoFundMe page to raise money for the trip. “In the end it will be hard to let go of my favorite photo of my dad. But I think it’s time for him to go back. Back to a time when he knew, that since the war was over, everything was going to be okay.”

Blazena Hrabetova was 19 back then, the Milwaukee Journal’s Jim Stingl writes today.

She remembers the joyful mood at the war’s end, but has no recollection of posing with Paul Huffman, who also was 19 then. She raised two daughters and was widowed 10 years ago.

Paul married after the war, also had two kids, and then moved to Milwaukee in the 1960s to work at Sealtest Dairy. He later moved to Beloit, where he died of cancer in 1987. His wife, Betty, also has died.

Near the end of his life, Paul visited Jerry in Austria where he was living at the time. They traveled to some of the areas where Paul saw action in the war, but they could not get permission to enter Czechoslovakia, then a Communist state.

Jerry said his father was haunted by the war and spoke little of what he experienced. The exception is Blatna and the kindness he and other soldiers enjoyed there when the war ended. On that trip to Austria, he surprised his son when he said, “You know what? What we did mattered.”

“I want to say thank you to that lady. She was nice to my dad. And I want to say thank you to that town, not only for my dad, but for all other Americans,” said Jerry.