A local man finds a photo of his father in action after the Battle of the Bulge.

John Kiersted of South Portland recently discovered a treasure trove of photos of his father taken during World War II, including a rare photo of his father, Arthur, in action.

Kiersted, an avid World War II buff, said he’s the only person he’s aware of who has a photo of his father engaged in actual combat, and until recently he had no idea the photo existed.

It’s Kiersted’s plan to donate copies of the photo to any interested museums, veterans’ organizations and the South Portland Historical Society.

“I just don’t want the memory of my dad and what he did to ever be forgotten,” he said.

?With Memorial Day approaching, many families l?ook back on photos of their loved ones during their wartime years, perhaps in an official portrait or during a lull in the action. Few, however, have images of their relatives engaged in combat, especially from World War II when cameras were not as available.

The photograph Kiersted discovered was among his mother’s belongings. And even though his father had often shared his World War II scrapbook with Kiersted and discussed many aspects of the war, the photo was one that he’d never seen before.

The photo shows Arthur Kiersted firing a cannon in an engagement near the Belgian border on Feb. 22, 1945. The action took place around the town of Hellenthal in the North Rhine region of Germany.

Arthur Kiersted was a member of the 2nd Infantry Division and was among the soldiers who hit Omaha Beach on D-Day in June 1944. He was drafted into the Army in 1943, before graduating from South Portland High School.

John Kiersted said another reason the photo of his father in action stands out is because only two soldiers are manning the cannon. That’s because the 2nd Infantry Division lost so many members during the Battle of the Bulge in mid-December 1944.

Kiersted said normally the cannon would have been manned by four soldiers, but there just weren’t enough gunners left as the Americans made their final push toward Berlin.

Kiersted found the photo while cleaning out his mother’s house after her death in January and said a friend, who is the curator at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, was in awe due to its rarity.

Arthur Kiersted died in 2001, but not before he got the chance to travel back to Europe in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of VE-Day and the opportunity to review the Academy Award-winning film, “Saving Private Ryan,” for a local newspaper.

John Kiersted said it was sometimes difficult growing up as the child of a combat veteran, but also said he couldn’t be prouder of his father and the service he rendered.

“To a point I could get my dad to talk about his days in the war and he could tell stories that would bring tears to your eyes,” he said.

Of the stories his father used to tell him, John Kiersted remembers several, including the fact that Arthur Kiersted and his best friend were separated and reunited five times during the war and that Arthur was listed as missing in action three times.

There were also the stories about the Battle of the Bulge and how the 2nd Division was rushed to the front. Arthur Kiersted and the other gunners had to leave their cannons behind and when they got to the front, they drew lots for who would take the most dangerous jobs, John Kiersted said.

At that point his father was unmarried and had no children, so he switched with a friend in his unit who did have a family and had been assigned as a stretcher-bearer, one of the jobs with the most fatalities because the German snipers would often target them as they tried to remove wounded soldiers from the battlefield, Kiersted said.

Kiersted also remembers his father talking about being sent out on patrol, and also taking unsanctioned walks through the countryside looking for German soldiers.

Kiersted recalled his father telling him about a time when he and a few others went out on patrol after crossing the Rhine, and they came back with 150 German prisoners, who surrendered because they were starving.

Following the victory in Europe, Arthur Kiersted returned to South Portland, where he met and married Gloria Boynton, who was the sister of someone with whom he played baseball.

John Kiersted said his father earned his high school diploma after returning home and went to work for the Esso petroleum company.

Kiersted said World War II vets “were welcomed home and didn’t have to worry about finding a job,” unlike the soldiers from Vietnam, who came home to an often-hostile reception a generation later.

Kiersted called his father and the other World War II veterans he knew growing up “truly the greatest generation.” It was his fondest wish to follow in his father’s footsteps, but when Kiersted tried to sign up to be a medic with the Army Rangers in 1971, he was rejected.

While Kiersted was devastated, he remembers that his father was glad that his only son would not see combat. Especially since, like many veterans, he suffered from bad dreams and other trauma as a result of his time spent fighting and killing.

The Kiersted family settled on Derby Road, near Mahoney Middle School, which is where John Kiersted grew up. Like his father, John was a track star in high school. He’s also a member of the 2nd Division Association and a Civil War re-enactor.

Following high school Kiersted drifted around taking various jobs, finally ending up taking a factory job in Massachusetts. At the age of 36 he enrolled in Harvard University, where he majored in history. Kiersted is now retired and lives with his wife in the Ferry Village neighborhood.

Kiersted said that before his father was drafted he was a four-letter athlete, competing on the varsity teams in baseball, basketball, football and track for South Portland High School. However, before leaving for the Army he was denied his letterman jacket.

Even so, Kiersted said his father was a staunch supporter of South Portland athletics, often giving money to athletes going to college that they could use for books or other expenses.

Kiersted said despite everything his father did during the war, his proudest moment came when he finally received his letterman’s jacket in 1996. Kiersted remembers his father got the jacket during the South Portland High graduation ceremony that year, and the whole place erupted in a standing ovation.

When Kiersted reflects on his father’s service to his country, he said, “My dad left here a kid in 1943 and in 1945 he came back a man.”

Arthur Kiersted, right, of South Portland, fires a cannon during an engagement near the Belgian border on Feb. 22, 1945. Kiersted was in the 2nd Infantry Division, which drove toward Germany following the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. Courtesy photoArthur Kiersted was drafted into the Army in 1943 and fought in the European theater during World War II. His son, John, said his father left South Portland a boy and came back a man.Courtesy photoJohn Kiersted of South Portland shows off photos of his father, Arthur, taken during his service in the U.S. Army during World War II. Kiersted said he doesn’t want the memory of what his father did during the war to be forgotten. Staff photo by Kate Irish Collins

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