Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pineland to D-Day

Phillip Kupelian at his home in Falmouth 2018

Ninety-four-year-old Phillip Kupelian lives alone in the Falmouth, Maine house he built himself. Last Saturday I interviewed him there about two things: Growing up on the grounds of what was then called the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Gray, Maine, and his experience in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Pineland Farms today

Phillip was born at what’s now called Pineland Farms in1924 because his father was a doctor on staff there when it was renamed the Pownal State School. Phillip couldn’t attend local schools because roads were bad and horse-drawn sleighs were his only transportation. He and his older brother were sent to stay with their maternal grandparents in Randolph, Maine (near Augusta) to attend school until Gray constructed plowable roads.

Phillip’s father, Nessib, had fled Ottoman Turkey around 1915 to escape the Armenian genocide. Out of 2 million Armenian Christians in Turkey, 1.5 million were slaughtered by Muslim Turks. The rest, including Nessib, took flight. In Maine, Nessib attended medical school at Bowdoin College and practiced at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. He was made superintendent from 1938 to 1953. “Coming to Maine, to America, was the greatest gift a father could give his son,” said Phil.

Scene from Armenian genocide

When I asked about eugenic practices at Pineland, Phillip didn’t know what eugenics was. I explained it was sterilization of the “feeble-minded” which was done at Pineland and many other venues in early 20th century America. He said he remembered hearing it discussed, but that’s all. In 1912, eight mixed-race squatters forcibly evicted from Maine’s Malaga Island were sent to Pineland. There they were probably sterilized along with several hundred other Mainers. Eighteen bodies from Malaga’s cemetery were re-buried there as well.

From its inception in 1908, Pineland was designed to be self-sufficient, a town in itself almost. It had an operating farm, a coal-fired steam generator, its own water system, and laundry. Phillip became quite interested in all of that so after high school he went off to study steam and diesel engineering at the Wentworth Institute in Boston. Then World War II broke out and he was drafted. After boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island he went across the Atlantic to England on the crew of LCI 506 — one of over 900 LCIs, or “Landing Craft Infantry” built in the USA for amphibious invasions. They were flat-bottomed, 158 feet long, and 23 feet wide.

No one on the 26-man crew of the 506 had any experience beyond US territorial waters when it set out in January, 1944. At a 1996 reunion, Ensign Phil G. Goulding, described his first time aboard the 506 being greeted by its 31-year-old skipper, a Lieutenant J. G. named Albers:

“Goulding, do you know anything?”

“No sir,” I said. “I just got out of midshipman's school. I don't know anything at all.”

Al Albers smiled. He pounded the wardroom table with his open hand. “Thank god for that,” he said. “Nobody on this ship knows anything and I was afraid those idiots were going to send me someone to spoil it. Siddown and have a cup of coffee.”

He turned to the others. “By God that's great,” he said. “He doesn't know anything. By God that's great.”

The crew that didn’t know anything nonetheless made it to England across the stormy Atlantic, seasick much of the way. Then, assigned at the last minute to a British command, they crossed the English Channel six months later on D-Day and delivered two hundred British infantry to Rose Beach — right between Omaha Beach and Juno Beach. The 506 hit a German mine just as it hit the beach which blew off one of its two ramps and tore a big hole in the bow. Soldiers got off safely though, and the ship limped back to England for repairs carrying wounded Allied troops and German POWs with them.
LCI 506 circled

Fifteen million Americans fought in World War II but there aren’t many left today. Phillip, one of the few, was modest about his wartime service. Most of what I learned about LCI 506 and what it did came from my online research. My own father was aboard one of the other 5000 ships that crossed the channel on D-Day, so I have a personal interest in that largest invasion in history of the world.

Cafeteria at Pineland School
Phillip returned to Pineland after the war and met his wife, Margaret, who lived nearby. They were married from 1947 until she died in 2012. They had one daughter who lives in Colorado now, and three grandchildren. Phillip is still quite active and goes back to Pineland every couple of weeks to take part in a veterans program housed there. “It’s quite different now,” he said, and invited me for a guided tour after all this snow melts.


Michael Corthell said...

Interesting article. Hope all is well!

piddingworth said...

What a great story Tom. Deeply revealing between the lines.

Charles Martel said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Phil at the TEA Party meetings at the Log Cabin in Yarmouth. What a patriot!

Anonymous said...

We met Phil at the Tea Party meetings in Yarmouth, and we are so proud to know him. He is a true Patriot and still expresses his views in editorials and articles to the newspaper. He is an inspiration to all of us who love our country. Bud and Judy Hurst