Honoring the ‘Frankfort boys’

By Walt Braun

Though we could not imagine such a well-deserved honor failing, it’s wonderful that the House Transportation Committee has passed and sent to the full body a proposal to name a stretch of K-99 to honor the “Frankfort boys.”

The Frankfort boys, as they’ve become known, are the 37 men of Frankfort who were killed during World War II. Just about every town in America has been home to men — and women — who died fighting for their country. Nothing compares, however, with Frankfort’s sacrifice during World War II. The town endured the highest death toll per capita of any community in the United States.

It’s a small town now, and it was a small town then, with a population of just 1,243 residents in 1940. In such towns, strangers are few. Small wonder, then, that Frank Benteman, an 85-year-old Topeka resident and a World War II veteran from Frankfort, told the House committee this week that he knew many of the “boys” who did not come back from the war. “I went to school with a lot of them.”

Mr. Benteman was almost added to their number. A scout in the 79th Division when U.S. troops crossed the Rhine River in March 1945, he told committee members that during an artillery bombardment , he and another fellow scout fled a foxhole they had dug. The two of them hid briefly in a house but decided to return to their foxhole. No sooner had they left the house than an artillery round struck and destroyed it.

The House and Senate should look favorably on this honor for the Frankfort boys. The bill, was introduced by state Rep. Sharon Schwartz, a Washington Republican. It would rename a stretch of K-99 from the south end of Frankfort through town and north to the junction of U.S. 36 the “Frankfort Boys World War II Memorial Highway.”

The cost would be minimal — perhaps $2,000 for signs identifying the section of highway and another $1,000 for maintenance. Private donations are expected to pay for the signs. Even if the state were to pick up the tab, it would amount to a small token of appreciation for the sacrifices of 37 men and the grief their deaths brought to this small Kansas town with such a big heart.

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