Calvin L. Van Pelt ’49: The Angel of Stockem

Calvin Van Pelt '49 (Heart of Oak yearbook)

Serving in the United States Third Army, Pacific student Calvin Van Pelt would see action in campaigns from Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge.

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As Cal slowly recovered, a doctor came in and told him gently, “There’s a man who wants to see you. He carried you to Longwy.” Albert Spies, a Belgian bicycle repairman who had been until recently a slave laborer for the Nazis, had found the young American lying in the blood-soaked snow in front of his house in Stockem. He and his friends defied the advancing Germans, who were killing any civilians who helped Americans, by somehow concealing Cal from enemy soldiers and carrying him for several days in the worst winter in forty years to the hospital in Longwy. He was back now, checking on the wounded GI he had rescued, pleased to see he had survived.

A couple of weeks later Cal was transferred to the General Military Hospital in Luxembourg City. There, with better care, he began to recover. The shell concussion had temporarily blinded him but when the bandages came off the world appeared again in hazy colors. By March, 1945, he was well enough to continue his recovery outside the hospital.

He asked to be placed with a French speaking family. By chance, he was placed with the Spies family in Stockem, which by now had been liberated. It did not take long for Albert Spies and Cal to figure out that Cal was the wounded soldier that Albert and his friends had pulled unconscious from the snow drift. When Cal saw the gate in front of the Spies house he flashed back to the moment he had been hit.

Spies, an older man, had been a prisoner of war, held by the Germans for several years and forced to work in a factory before escaping and walking back to his home in Stockem about a month before he and his friends saved Cal’s life. There was little food in Stockem; the local economy had been devastated by the war and families were hungry. The Army supplied Cal with rations, more than enough, so he gladly shared fruit, chocolate and other items with his hosts and their neighbors.

Cal lived with Spies and his wife Helene for six months as he slowly recovered. He was on crutches and still suffering from burns and severe shrapnel wounds. Not surprisingly, he developed a very close relationship with the brave and compassionate couple, who had no children of their own. Albert even referred to Cal as his son.

Cal returned from the war later that year, anxious to pick up where he left off. He joined hundreds of other happy, returning war veterans who crowded Pacific for the 1945-46 academic year. In spite of what he had been through, he readjusted well, taking a leadership role as class president and an officer in the Alpha-Zeta fraternity.

After graduation in 1949 as a language major he earned an advanced degree from the prestigious American Graduate School of International Management in Phoenix, Arizona. A stellar professional career followed: head of the international division at Jantzen, Inc. followed by executive positions with White Stag, Columbia Exporters and other firms in which he traveled the world on many assignments. Later he worked to found the World Trade Center in Portland, serving as its charter president. He was also appointed Honorary Consul for the Republic of South Africa, serving 15 years in that post.

Cal maintained close ties with Pacific, offering advice and support to successive administrations and serving as President of the Alumni Board. In 2007 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the University.

Through the years he had tried to keep in touch with his friends and benefactors, Albert and Helene Spies in Belgium. After he heard the couple passed away in the 1990’s he corresponded occasionally with a younger relative of the Spies, Renee Aadt LeJeune.