History Comes Alive for Students Tracing World War II Dead (NY)

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The Army-issued memorial flag, tucked away in storage for decades at the Queens College library, was a tantalizing clue. But it needed some decoding.

On the flag were two stars and two numbers: a gold star followed by “58” and just below that a black star with “1235”.

Joel Allen, a history professor at the college who had been on a quest to track down the names of students who died during World War II, knew that the flag represented the number of Queens College students who served — 1,235 — and died — 58 — during the war.

But while the flag had survived the decades, the names of those it represented had long been lost.

That deeply disturbed Arnold Franco, a Manhattan insurance executive, a member of the Queens College class of 1943, who was one of the 1,235 — 60 percent of the student body at the time — who left the college to serve in the military. He found himself one morning about a year ago in his apartment on East 62nd Street, depressed at the thought that many of his soldier-classmates had been forgotten.

“I woke up and I said, ‘My God, there’s no World War II veterans memorial at the school,’ ” said Mr. Franco, 83, who urged school officials to begin the search for the dead students’ names and offered $100,000 to build a memorial on campus. His offer was accepted, and today, the memorial will be dedicated.

Mr. Franco, who was born and raised in Richmond Hill and majored in history at Queens College, which is in Flushing, served in an elite group of code-breakers during the war. He can still recite from memory the coded German message announcing the paratroop invasion that led to the Battle of the Bulge.

Yet the job of breaking the flag’s code fell to a newer group of recruits: six history majors at the college, led by Professor Allen, who began their research last winter.

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