Memorial Day feature
Since 1945, April 6 has come and gone 69 times.
Leon Tulper has dreaded each and every one of them.
“Come April the 6th, I don’t want to talk to anybody,” Tulper says in the cluttered chaos of his soon-to-close place of business.
“I don’t even want to see my family, nothing. It’s like embedded, like somebody inserted something in your head that automatically on April 6, you’re through.”
April 6, 1945 was the day that Tulper, at the time a 20-year-old radioman with the 65th Infantry Division, part of Patton’s Third Army, walked alongside his comrades into a place in Germany called Ohrdruf.
It was the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by US forces as WW II wound to its violent end, the first camp visited, and documented, by Eisenhower.
Part of the Buchenwald complex of camps, Ohrdruf was classified as a forced labor and concentration camp, but — particularly toward the final days of the war — it saw plentiful death as well, as desperate SS guards murdered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jewish and other inmates before it could be liberated.
For Tulper, who had spent the last several months with his unit as it fought its way across Germany, Ohrdruf offered horrors that dwarfed anything he had seen on the battlefield.
The usually sunny face of Tulper — “89 and counting,” he says when asked his age — turns cloudy when he visualizes his memories.
“There are,” he says, “just no words for it.”
A native of Kansas City, Tulper has lived in Denver since 1939, when he was 13. His father established a jewelry and watch business, Tulper & Co., downtown and later moved it to East Colfax where, in the shadow of East High School, it has long been an East Side fixture. Tulper took over the business after his father passed away.
He was drafted in Denver, did basic training in Texas and then volunteered for the US Army Air Corps, hoping to join a bomber squadron. That didn’t happen, since the Army decided it needed infantrymen more than airmen, resulting in Tulper’s posting in the 65th Infantry Division.
Shipping out to LeHavre, France in late 1944, the division missed D-Day by a few months and the Battle of the Bulge by a few days.
“We entered the line at Metz, France,” Tulper says. “We were there for some time until the Battle of the Bulge.