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Al Mampre, last living medic from WWII’s famed ‘Band of Brothers,’ has died at 97

Skokie man survived sniper’s bullet while serving with Easy Company, which won acclaim with book and HBO series, but general says, ‘He never liked the word “hero” and never saw himself as one.’

Al Mampre.
Al Mampre.
U.S. Army Reserves

The wounded lieutenant was lying in a field, dust kicking up all around him from a German sniper.

It was 1944 in the Netherlands, and Al Mampre, a World War II medic with the now-famed Band of Brothers, ventured into the open to try to save Lt. Bob Brewer.

“I lie down next to him. . . and I said, in my best bedside manner, I said, ‘Lieutenant, are you dead? Because if you are, I’m leaving.’

“He croaked out, ‘No, but I don’t know why not.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll stay with you.’ ”

Then, Mr. Mampre himself was hit — shot in the calf and groin.

“Like a. . . . mule kicked me in the leg,” he told the West Point Center for Oral History. “I looked back there, and it’s laid open right to the bone. . . .I gave myself a shot of morphine. . . . I didn’t want to go into shock.”

A Dutch civilian grabbed the lieutenant’s carbine and emptied it on the Germans. Others placed the officer on a ladder. Mr. Mampre scrambled to follow and continued treating him in the relative safety of a Dutch home, he was quoted as saying in Marcus Brotherton’s book “We Who are Alive and Remain.”

“Al was the last living medic from Easy Company,” known as the Band of Brothers, whose members now number in the single digits, said retired Master Sgt. Randal Underhill, executive secretary of the 101st Airborne Division Association veterans’ group.

Mr. Mampre, who’d held the rank of staff sergeant, planned to visit Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, but he died at Evanston Hospital on May 31, just before he was set to leave for Europe, according to his daughter Virginia. A Skokie resident, he was 97.

For many, the staff sergeant’s courage personified the spirit of the “Greatest Generation.”

After the 2001 HBO series “Band of Brothers” and the book by historian Stephen E. Ambrose on which it was based, members of the unit were recognized at veterans’ events, the Emmy awards and World War II commemorations.

Easy Company is part of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. At the regiment ball in 2017, “The soldiers just wanted to be around him,” Col. Buddy Ferris of the 101st Airborne, said of Mr. Mampre. “He was a rock star and a patriot and just a good person.”

Mr. Mampre, who was awarded a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his service, said the Brewer rescue was woven into HBO’s “Band of Brothers” episode No. 4 “Replacements,” according to Kevin M. Hymel, a historian for the U.S. Air Force Medical Service who writes for WWII Quarterly magazine.

After recovering, Mr. Mampre served at regiment headquarters during the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium, according to his daughter. She said he’d see Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe there, the military leader famous for answering a Nazi request for surrender with the one-word rejection: “NUTS!”

Al Mampre.
Al Mampre.
The Greatest Generations Foundation

Mr. Mampre missed D-Day because he was hospitalized with an illness but three months later was among 35,000 paratroopers and glider troops who rained from the skies over Europe in Operation Market Garden, immortalized in the book and movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

After he landed in the Netherlands, “A German machine gun opened up down the street,” he told the West Point Center. “I stepped back in a doorway.”

From inside, a Dutchwoman’s hand emerged. Mr. Mampre never saw the woman, only her arm, holding a spoon with an offering to an ally.

“A woman with a. . . spoonful of cherries was feeding me cherries,” Mr. Mampre told the oral history center. “A machine gun’s firing down the street, and she’s feeding me cherries. Can you imagine? That’s all she had.”

Al Mampre on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a White Sox game May 26, 2013.
Al Mampre on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a White Sox game May 26, 2013.
Tom Cruze / Sun-Times

Albert Leon Mampre grew up in Oak Park, the son of immigrants from the Armenian diaspora. His mother Viola came from Baghdad. His father Nishan, from Turkey, repaired rugs and farm equipment.

Young Al “was always taking care of people,” his daughter said.

At 4, he’d alert adults about the wanderings of an elderly, forgetful neighbor who was a Civil War veteran. “The colonel’s running away!” he’d warn.

He had a paper route and sold the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal. He loved the Katzenjammer Kids comics and would pay a quarter at the movies to root for Rin Tin Tin, the heroic German shepherd.

He went to what was then Oak Park High School and pursued ministerial studies at Ohio Northern and Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. After the rigors of Oak Park High, college was easy, he told the West Point Center: “It was like duck soup.”

In 1942, he enlisted. “Being a little bit of a daredevil,” Mr. Mampre said he decided to be a paratrooper.

He was glad to be a medic because he said he wasn’t a good marksman, that he was good at “pluggin’ holes, not makin’ holes” — skills he credited to his Boy Scout training.

“Most of what they reviewed with me was what I learned in Boy Scouts, except giving shots,” he said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. “We practiced on oranges. Well, we never ran into an orange in combat.”

The training was mostly common sense, he told the West Point Center: “Guy’s got a hole in his chest? Put your hand over it so it doesn’t suck air. Basic stuff.”

Al Mampre in his Army days.
Al Mampre in his Army days.

Mr. Mampre had deep respect for the other Allies. Still, he once said, “They waited for orders,” a different approach from the independence and resourcefulness he said he witnessed among American troops. “We were kind of an entrepreneurial group.”

He recalled seeing British soldiers take a break, saying it was “Time for tea, mate” — until German troops opened fire nearby.

In England, he crossed paths with Scottish soldiers, whose indecipherable burrs he described in “We Who Are Alive and Remain” as sounding like “barumpt armph bah.”

“One morning, I decided to join in. ‘Barumpt armph rut rut,’ I said. It was complete gibberish. One of them looked at me and said, ‘That’s right, Yank.’ ”

In Bastogne, he joked about trading uniforms with a captured German soldier who looked about 17, saying it would get each of them home quicker.

“I says, ‘Lookit, If you wear my American uniform, you know we’re going to Germany, you’d be home. If I wear your German uniform, they’ll [send] me to the United States as a POW, but I’ll be home,” Mr. Mampre told the West Point Center. “He looked at me, and he looked like, ‘To hell with you.’ He says, ‘You go to Germany. I want to go to the United States’. . .That cracked me up. He didn’t want to go home.”

Mr. Mampre and the former Virginia Joboulian were married a month after he came home in 1945. She was only about 7 when they first met, at an Armenian picnic. She told her parents one day she was going to marry him.

In 1948, they took a three-month bicycle tour of Europe, witnessing its recovery from war. They were married 63 years, until her death in 2009.

Mr. Mampre focused on psychology at Pepperdine University in California and added anthropology to his studies at UCLA and the University of Chicago. He spent his career in management working for International Harvester and also operated a family psychology practice in Evanston, where the Mampres raised their daughters Virginia and Susan Mampre and Elizabeth Celebucki, who died in 2011.

As a child, Susan Mampre says she got a lesson on compassion from her father that “stayed with me the rest of my life.” They were at a department store. A man with a speech disorder was approaching people and opening his wallet. Other shoppers, thinking he wanted money, pulled away.

“People were avoiding him,” Susan Mampre said. “I remember my dad going up to him, talking to him, and he figured out what he wanted. He was pointing to his wallet because he just wanted to pay.”

So Mr. Mampre helped him, she said.

In his later years, Mr. Mampre did public speaking and raised money for veterans and police and fire departments. He traveled for pleasure and wartime anniversaries in Belgium, England, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Virginia Mampre said.

He loved his English setter Keebler and watching Westerns, “that struggle between good and evil,” she said.

And he was a humble man, said Brigadier General Kris A. Belanger. “He was absolutely driven by being around those who give of themselves selflessly,” she said. “He never liked the word ‘hero’ and never saw himself as one.”

Al Mampre in a 1980s family photo with (from left) his daughters Elizabeth Celebucki, Susan Mapre and Virginia Mampre and his wife Virginia Mampre.
Al Mampre in a 1980s family photo with (from left) his daughters Elizabeth Celebucki, Susan Mapre and Virginia Mampre and his wife Virginia Mampre.

Mr. Mampre enjoyed having Baskin-Robbins ice cream and Armenian specialties such as rice pilaf and the pizza-like treat called lahmajun. Shish kebab was another favorite. “On the snowiest day, he’d build a fire, and grill,” Virginia Mampre said.

Though he never had PTSD, his daughter said Mr. Mampre had a brief flashback watching the movie “Sully.” As the heroic pilot imagines a plane hitting buildings, “For just two seconds,” he said, “I felt like the bullets were flying around me.”

Visitation for Mr. Mampre is from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Donnellan Family Funeral Home in Skokie, with his funeral at 10 a.m. Saturday at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston.

When he was called on for a speech, he’d keep it short. “Be good, do good,” he’d say.

“I’d do it all over again,” Mr. Mampre once told the Military Health System. “But if they need me again at 95 years old, boy, we’re in trouble.”

Al Mampre.
Al Mampre.
U.S. Army Reserves
The Dec. 6, 1944, edition of the Chicago Times lists Staff Sgt. Albert Mampre among the latest Army wounded in World War II.
The Dec. 6, 1944, edition of the Chicago Times lists Staff Sgt. Albert Mampre among the latest Army wounded in World War II.