PARIS — When Dominik Klinger was 6 years old, his family received notice they would have to leave Romania for a few days to stay safe from the Russians. Little did he or his family know they would never return to their homeland.
The year was 1942 and Europe was in the throes of World War II. Klinger, his parents and siblings lived in Uivar, a small town in Romania, close to the country’s capital. After that initial notice, they were headed to Austria, where the family would live until he turned 15.
They eventually immigrated to the United States, where Klinger later joined the U.S. Army Reserve. He and his wife, Diane, will serve as the grand marshals for the Paris Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 29.
Klinger has few memories of his time in Austria.
“I know I just started [school] I think it was kindergarten at age 6 but that’s about it. I know we didn’t have no electric or no phones or television,” he recalled, adding the town did have all of those things. “Not too many families had all that. They couldn’t afford it I guess.”
He was not scared when his family received the news they had to leave their home for what they thought was only a few days.
“I knew it was war time but I guess otherwise I didn’t know really what’s going [on] or what really would happen,” Klinger said from inside his Paris home earlier this week.
Thinking they would return soon, his parents only packed a few things for the family.
“They put us in cattle cars and drove us for a couple days. We stopped in Hungary for a week then they sent us to Austria,” Klinger remembered. “Some people went. Some people figured they’d stay [in Romania].”
They ended up in Neukirchen, which is in Upper Austria and translates to “Little Church” in English, Klinger said. This town was only six miles from Braunau am Inn – the place that Adolf Hitler was born.
At first the family stayed in a guest house. After it became apparent they were going to be in Austria for the long haul, Klinger’s father and other people began searching for work and permanent places to live.
“Father got to work and we stayed there,” he said. “I did a lot of work after school there on the farm. I was helping out just for two months. Otherwise there wasn’t too much to do in the town.”
And there Klinger and his family stayed until 1951 when they began to fill out paperwork to come to the U.S. with the help of Catholic Relief Services. The family arrived in New York and stayed there a couple of days while they received shots and filled out more paperwork.
“We didn’t speak any English at that time,” Klinger said, his voice still carrying his Romanian accent. “We went down there to Texas for nine months … then we moved to New Jersey.
“I actually was working for the nine months on the tractor,” he said about the cattle farm they lived on while in Texas. “Then I started school in New Jersey. [I] went to four years of school and graduated.”
After graduation, Klinger began his apprenticeship as a tool and die maker and worked for 44 years in the trade. He retired in 2000.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve, serving for 31 years and then 10 years in stand-by reserve. He aged out of the Army Reserve, but when he retired, he was a command sergeant. Klinger went to Fort Knox in Kentucky and Fort Benning in Georgia while in the Reserve.
“We were like a training unit. In case we would be activated we would go … and train recruits. That is what our mission was,” he said, adding his unit was never activated. “One time we were close to it during the Berlin crisis in ’62. … There were some units called up for Desert Storm. I wasn’t involved with that as I was just getting out.”
After his retirement in 2000, Klinger joined the American Legion while living in New Jersey. Down there he volunteered as a first aid ambulance driver and an assistant to EMTs. It is also where he met Diane.
Klinger’s first wife had died and Diane’s first husband had died when they met.
“Somehow we got together and we got stuck and stayed together,” he said, adding they met while he was still working.
They’re both 80, active with their chickens, roosters, horses and grandkids, and getting ready to turn 81 in September. And oddly enough, they were born one day apart.
“It just happened to be that way,” Diane said.
“Not too often it happens like that,” Dominik laughed.
The couple moved to Maine in 2005 to be close to Diane’s daughter and her children. They live right next door and every day after school they visit their grandparents for ice cream.
After Klinger moved to Maine, he transferred to the Foster Carroll American Legion Post in Paris. There he served as second vice commander, first vice commander, two years as post commander and is currently adjutant.
And on Monday, he and Diane will lead the parade from the Oxford County Courthouse lower parking lot down Western Avenue and ending at Moore Park. The parade steps off at 10:30 a.m.
“They couldn’t think of anybody else,” he joked about why he thought he was chosen to serve as grand marshal.
But there is one perk Klinger is looking forward about the 2017 parade.
“I don’t have to walk this time,” he said, grinning.