From the archives: U.S. hero made German prisoner

U.S. hero made german prisoner
News of Laux receiving the Carnegie Medal made it into the Dec. 6, 1931, issue of The New York Times.

If you do good, good things will come to you too.

That’s the conclusion of Gudrun Laux-Vincq of Mezos, France, whose father, Karl J. Laux, was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1931 for saving a woman from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean at Long Branch, N.J., on Aug. 20, 1930.  A native of Limburg, Germany, Laux, 27, was living in Elizabeth, N.J., at the time of his heroic act.  He was single and working as a German-English stenographer in the offices of a manufacturing concern.

The Hero Fund’s award certificate summarized his actions:

While Ida Podell, 32, was wading in the ocean, she was pulled by a strong undercurrent into deep water.  She tried to swim but drifted farther from land.  Laux waded from shore and swam 250 feet through rough water and breakers five feet high to her.  She took hold of his bathing suit, and he swam with great effort 150 feet to the outer end of a jetty that extended from shore.  He was knocked against the jetty as a wave broke over it.  He then towed Mrs. Podell to wadable water along the side of the jetty.  A life preserver, to which a rope was attached, was tossed to her by men on the jetty, and she was pulled to shore.  Laux waded to shore.

U.S. hero made german prisoner
Gudrun Laux-Vincq at her parents’ grave in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The award included a grant of $500, which today would be worth $7,800.  The grant would have been huge for Laux—it was during the Great Depression—as his monthly earnings were $135.  An only child, he had been sending $10 to $12 a month to his parents in Germany, where his father was a butcher.  Laux had immigrated in 1928 to the U.S., where he met Willma Sweede, who immigrated in 1931.  They were married in 1935.

In requesting one of the Hero Fund’s bronze markers for her father’s grave—Laux died in 1984 and is buried in Wiesbaden, Germany—Laux-Vincq told the Hero Fund that her father would be proud of the marker since he was always proud of his Carnegie Medal.

And then she related the following astounding account:

“My father received a very good offer to work in Cologne and decided to return back to Germany.  I don’t know exactly when, but unfortunately it was very bad timing because the war was going on.  He became a prisoner of war of the Americans and stayed in Muenster.

U.S. hero made german prisoner
Laux, circa 1968; cigarette obbligato

“At an inspection or roll call of the prisoners, he was not fast enough for a guard who punched or pushed him into hurrying up.  My father, a tall man at six-foot-two, shouted at him—of course in English—Is this how you treat a person who is recognized a hero in the United States?!   A nearby officer intervened, and my father showed him a copy of the Carnegie Hero Fund’s award certificate which he always kept with him.  The result was that my father was transferred to an interpreter company.”

Laux-Vincq knew something of her father’s war years but she had not known how he ended up in the interpreter company.  “At home,” she said, “we did not talk a lot about the war.”  When her brother related the Carnegie certificate incident to her, “I thought it was typical for my father, who had a dry humor.”

The account serves, Laux-Vincq says, as “another proof of the very important work the Carnegie Commission is doing in recognizing outstanding individuals and their deeds.”  Reading imPULSE “helps me not lose my mind when hearing about all of the terrible things going on in the world.”


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