One of the first things that struck us when we laid eyes on the house on Lockridge Drive that was to become our first home was the landscaping. My husband and I had long ago agreed that big lawns and the requisite mowing that accompanies them had no aesthetic appeal to us. We were both enthralled by the Bonsai-like Crab tree in the middle of the small front yard, the ferns, and the flowers. The sloping backyard with its bushy wild flowers, tall pines and oaks, and multiple holly trees gave it a lush and wooded feel, and it seemed as if everything had been placed with great care.
When we bought the house, we learned that the Radovsky family had lived in it for 40 years. That’s 40 years the house and property had been lovingly tended. We had bought not just a piece of land and a building, but one family’s life’s work. As we gaze at the garden every day, we have become more curious about the history that preceded us.
Not long after we moved in, we met neighbors Marion and Jerry Lane, who were friends of the Radovskys. We learned from them that Milt Radovsky, who passed away in 1993, was a Jewish-American who had survived a German POW camp during World War II. I also learned from Marion that Fran had been active in the civic life of the community. Fran now lives in an apartment in a retirement community in Silver Spring. I interviewed her on a recent afternoon and learned a little more about her husband’s experiences in World War II and its impact on his life, what brought their family to Northwood Park, and the contributions Fran made to this neighborhood.
Fran grew up in Massachusetts and Milt went to a U.S. Air Force training school there soon after enlisting, but they did not meet until after the War, and after Milt, still a young man, had been through a lifetime of experiences in Europe.
Upon graduation, Milt was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 461st Group of the 15th Air Force. He was sent first to North Africa and then Italy. It was on his 33rd mission, on July 25, 1944, which was supposed to be his last, that his plane, and a crew of 10, were shot down over Molnn, Austria. They were part of a large-scale attack on the heavily-defended Hermann Goering Tank Works at Linz, Austria. Milt’s plane was one of 11 shot down on that mission, and four more were lost that day. Four out of the 10 men on Milt’s plane lost their lives that day.
Lieutenant Radvosky was found by an Austrian woman and her maid in Molln. They were tending to his injured wrist, and he believed he was in friendly hands, when the Nazi SS arrived. They had been searching the area for the downed crew when they came upon the injured officer and marched him off to jail and later put him on a train to Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. It was here, in Stalag Luft 1, a POW camp, that Milt would remain until the end of the war. It was only long after the war ended that he learned that the Germans had had plans to ship all the Jewish POWs, such as himself, off to concentration camps. The Russians liberated the camp in May, 1945, before the Germans had the opportunity to enact these plans.
Fran said that her husband almost never talked about the War or his time in the POW camp until after he had a heart attack in the mid-1980s. After his heart attack, Fran explained, he started to become more curious about the history he had been part of — so curious, in fact, that he began searching the Archives of the Nuremberg War Crimes trials for answers to his questions. From this research, he learned of the trial of a German who had left one of Milt’s comrades to die, his parachute hanging from a tree. He also found the name of the Austrian woman who had tried to save him. He decided to reach out to Austrians in Molnn and Linz, a place he had tried to attack with deadly bombs 40 years earlier.
Milt placed an ads in local papers in Molnn and Linz, saying that he wished to correspond with people who had lived there at that time and knew of the air raid. Fran said he was amazed that dozens of people responded. Among those he began corresponding with was the Mayor of Molnn. Milt decided to write a book about his experiences and traveled to Austria two times to meet the people of Molnn and Linz. Fran accompanied him on both trips. She said the Mayor of Molnn and residents of both Molnn and Linz made all sorts of arrangements for them, including places to stay and opportunities to speak to locals about the War.
“I can’t believe how the people who were working at the Hermann Goering Tank Works treated us. They sent a limo to meet us.... We spent the whole day (at the factory). They treated us like royalty,” she said.
Fran said they also went to see the mountain in Molnn that Milt’s plane had crashed into, and they met men who were 15 at the time of the air raid and whose responsibility was to shoot at Allied air planes. The Mayor of Molnn also made arrangements for the Radovskys to meet the woman who had cared for Milt before the SS arrived.
“She was over 90 years old and all bent over. We went to her house and she greeted him like her own lost relative,” Fran recalled.
Fran said that Milt worked on his book until he became too sick; his first draft was almost complete.
After his release from the POW Camp, Milt had spent a month in France and then returned home to the U.S. and re-enlisted in 1947. Shortly after that, he met Fran in Westover Field, Massachusetts, where the Air Force sent him and where she grew up. Fran decided to give up her plans to attend physical therapy school at Richmond Medical College when they got married in October, 1947. Fran had trained to be an Army nurse, but never served overseas.
Milt served the U.S. Air Force until 1964. During the Korean War, he flew missions to Germany and was sent to military intelligence school. When he retired, he was a Major with the Air Defense Command.
It was shortly after he ended his military career in 1964 that the Radovskys bought the house on Lockridge Drive.
Fran said she was greatly relieved when her husband retired from the military because he sometimes was sent away for a year at a time, during which times she was left behind to raise their two sons alone. Their sons, Ken and Dan, were 11 and 15 at the time they bought the house on Lockridge. Milt started a paper recycling business that did well for a few years, and then went to work as a realtor for Long & Foster. He also devoted a lot of time to reading about history and sailing, including trips to the Caribbean in chartered boats. They came to know their neighbors on Lockridge Drive well.
“It was an exceptionally friendly side of the street,” she said. “There wasn’t much turnover for years until people started retiring and moving away.” To this day, she has stayed in contact with many of these former neighbors.
In 1993, shortly after Milt passed away, something happened that caused Fran to get deeply involved in community issues. The Army Corps of Engineers began the planning process for a dam they would build at the end of Lockridge Drive in Northwest Branch Park. Fran said the plan meant taking down over 250 mature trees.
“It made me so angry because I spent a lot of time there,” she said. “I was so much against it.”
The dam project was designed to clean up the runoff from the Northwest Branch Stream to the Anacostia River, Fran said. Fran was actively involved opposing the project for about a year, including weekly meetings.
She added, “The biggest help was (NFCCA past president) Charlie Pritchard. He got involved right away and spearheaded this.”
Fran recalled that in the last meeting they had about the project with Army Corps of Engineers, she spoke up, “and the next thing I knew, they weren’t going to do this.”
Fran said the most significant changes she has seen to the neighborhood in recent years, in addition to a turnover in the population, are an increase in the population and in commercial development at Four Corners.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the bountifulness of the garden she sowed on Lockridge Drive. ■
© 2005 NFCCA [Source: https://nfcca.org/news/nn200510k.html]