Mariellen Robinson Miller never met her stepbrother, 2nd Lt. Kenneth Robinson, who was killed on Aug. 17, 1943, when the plane he was in was shot down and his parachute opened too soon and became entangled in the plane’s equipment. He was 22.
In 1945, Kenneth’s father, Edward Robinson, married Miller’s mother and adopted her and her older brother, Ric.
“I never knew Kenny, except that his pictures were all over the house,” shared Miller. “We would ask our dad [about Kenny] and mom would say, ‘Don't ask daddy; he doesn't want to talk about it.’ He wouldn’t talk about him, so we were kind of in the dark about Kenny.”
After Miller and her brother saw the movie “Saving Private Ryan” they felt the urge to find out more about their stepbrother. They visited his high school, got his yearbook, discovered pictures and articles and gathered information.
They knew he was buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium, having been moved there from Germany. “They asked my dad if he wanted them to bring him home and he said, ‘No, he's been moved enough. Just let him rest.’ And that's how he ended up in Belgium.”
It wasn’t until 2015, when Miller’s cousin was in Belgium and visited Robinson’s grave, that she discovered a grievous error had been made. “She texted me that there was a cross on the grave and she sent me the name of the superintendent of the Ardennes American Cemetery. I started emailing with him — that's where my journey actually started. My brother [Ric] was already gone and I said, ‘I'm going to fix this.’”
Miller explained that many soldiers didn’t carry anything that would identify them as Jewish. She said that was probably a good thing for her stepbrother — his dog tags said he was Catholic — as he would not have been buried had the Germans known his true religious identity.
But trying to prove he was Jewish to get his headstone changed was met with many challenges. Miller sent letters to government agencies and signed countless forms. She said working with the government was like running into “one brick wall after another.”
By chance, she was sent an article about a rabbi, Air Force Chaplain Levy Pekar, who had officiated at the ceremony in a cemetery in the Philippines where a cross was changed to the Star of David on a Jewish soldier’s grave.
“I contacted him to tell him my story and ask what I could do to get the cross replaced,” said Miller. “After texting back and forth, he said, ‘I'm going to put you in touch with Operation Benjamin’s [co-founder] Shalom Lamm.’ From then on, Shalom took over.”
Operation Benjamin paid for Miller’s trip to Europe, where she embarked on a journey with her daughters, Halle Miller and Jennifer Traulsen, and her three grandchildren. She joined other family members of Jewish soldiers and traveled to Luxembourg, France and Belgium.
“We stopped at seven gravesites in two and a half days to replace the crosses with stars. Seven young men who had been killed,” said Miller. “It was pretty intense and it was hectic. But it was so worthwhile and just the light of my life. It was just awesome.”
On April 27, 2022, Miller placed stones on her stepbrother’s Star of David grave marker for the first time.
Miller moved to Arizona more than 60 years ago and is an active member of Beth Ami Temple since she joined in 2002. “Beth Ami is mostly retired people, older people and it's very hamish [cozy and homey],” she said. Miller shared the speech she read at the cemetery with her fitness group at Beth Ami so she could practice it before leaving for Europe.
Miller shared that many people have reached out since her story first ran on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s website. “I'm so glad of all this publicity that this is getting. Maybe we'll reach other people in the same situation that I was in and maybe they'll reach out to Operation Benjamin,” she said. “God bless them. They are so dedicated and feel so honored when they succeed in fixing this — they're wonderful people.” JN