There is a story behind every brick.
That was one of the messages that hundreds of
people heard Saturday at a ceremony dedicating
the World War II monument along the Arkansas
River near downtown. Each of the hundreds of
bricks surrounding the new monument in Veterans
Memorial Park bears the name of someone who
served in the war.
There is a story behind four bricks – side by
side – bearing the last name Gonzalez. Four
Gonzalez brothers from Newton – Jose, Daniel,
Carmen, Doroteo – served in the European or
Pacific theaters of the war.
Jose, now 88, came to the ceremony with his
wife, Elsie, and son Rolando. Jose, who served
from 1943 to 1945, once ran into his brother
Doroteo in New Guinea during the war. Jose
served in an Army aviation battalion that went
in immediately after Marines to build
installations like airstrips, vital in the fight
against the Japanese.
Jose got shot at. He remembers the sounds of
ricocheting bullets. The installations were
common targets of Japanese bombing.
“I’m one of the lucky ones to come back,” he
And there is a story behind another brick in Row
13, two bricks from the right. It says: “Cpl T5
Thomas L. Gripe.” Gripe served from 1942 to 1945
with a signal air warning unit in the Pacific.
The story behind his brick comes from his
84-year-old widow, Rogene Gripe, who wasn’t able
to attend Saturday’s ceremony but told her story
to a reporter by phone. It was 1943, and Rogene
was a 16-year-old clerk at a downtown Wichita
drug store when a customer gave her a dollar
bill with writing on it: a name of a soldier and
a Florida address.
On a whim, Rogene wrote to the soldier who put
his name, Thomas Gripe, on the dollar bill. She
and Thomas started corresponding. While on leave
from his unit, he came from his home in Pawnee,
Okla., to meet her and her family in January
“That’s the first time we met, and I only saw
him three days, and then he had to leave,” she
“We were very crazy about each other the first
time we saw each other. I liked his personality
and his looks.”
For two years while Thomas was gone in the war,
they carried on a relationship by letters.
All these years later, she keeps the letters in
a pillow case.
She still marvels at their fate.
“I met him through his dollar bill,” which
somehow ended up in her hand in the drug store.
“What a dollar bill can buy,” she said.
They got married the day after he got back from
They had four children and had been married
almost 50 years when he died in 1995.
By Tim Potter
The Wichita Eagle - 11/12/2011