Civil trial to begin Monday in 2009 Eastlake house explosion that killed 86 year old woman

EASTLAKE, Ohio - So very often in news people are defined in stories by how they died; accidents, shootings, fires etc.

That could have very easily been the case for Frank and Alice Pitchler of Eastlake who on a cold January night in 2009 were sitting in the home they had shared for decades one second, Frank in his recliner and Alice on the couch with her Yorkshire Terrier Spunky on her lap, then in a flash everything changed.

I was working that night at Newschannel 5 when the calls at first started coming into the newsroom about an earthquake. As the assignment desk was busy fielding those viewer calls we heard over the scanners about a house fire.

We would soon realize they were one in the same, the rumbling felt for miles around that people mistook for an earthquake was actually the Pitchler's home exploding.

When I first arrived on the scene I couldn't believe it, there was no house just smoldering timbers where one once stood. No one could have survived this I first thought, had I known the Pitchlers better at the time I would have known they weren't going without a fight, they had come too far, overcome too much to just give up.

Their story together began In England during World War II where Frank, who was born on the 4th of July was a sergeant in the Army and Alice was an English nurse who also drove double decker buses.

The two almost never met because one day Alice was sitting in a theater when a bomb dropped during an air raid destroyed the movie house, she credited her survival that day to a man who landed on top of her who was killed in the blast.

She would soon learn those in the theater were not the only casualties that day, a school behind it was also hit and  around 150 students were killed.

The two met at a dance in England and as Frank and Alice fell in love a colonel gave the young sergeant some valuable advice "he says if you want to marry this woman then we gotta get her," his son John recalled.  "They brought her in through the camp and they had her married the day before they went out to fight," he said.

Where Frank was headed you see was to Normandy and Omaha Beach, D-Day.

On June 6, 1944 Frank Pitchler stormed the beaches of Northern France, a day that would be forever synonymous with the war.

His son Frank recalls his father telling him how he prepared to take the beach standing between two other sergeants. "When that gangplank went down those two guys were dead like that, they got shot. He said the Germans had them zeroed in."

But as word of the invasion reached his new bride of five weeks back in England it was soon followed by the devastating news that many in Frank's company had been killed.

She wouldn't believe it though her son said, "so she lit candles every night at the church and prayed for him to be alive."

Frank, she would soon learn, did survive D-Day and would go onto fight in the Battle of the Bulge before returning to Northeast Ohio with Alice to start a family but with a view on life seen through different eyes, not sweating the small stuff.

"Maybe their outlook was a little bit different than most because of the war and what they went through," said their son John. "So they took life a little more easier than maybe some other people who weren't through that experience."

So it was no surprise as neighbors ran to the Pitchler's house that January night that they would find the couple seriously injured but alive, Frank still sitting in his recliner, his home gone around him.

As they were rushed to the hospital they were thinking not of themselves but of each other. Alice was the most seriously injured but her son recalled the doctors assuring her that Frank was OK.

When they did, her son says she closed her eyes and you could see the relief on her face.  She died a few hours later.

Frank would recover and live another two years before he died in March of 2011 at the age of 88.

The family takes solace in their many years with their parents and in sharing something else, Spunky, Frank and Alice's Yorkshire Terrier who against improbable odds survived the blast that night unscathed.

The dog now lives with son Frank. "My mother died on my birthday, January 29," Frank said. "That's why I think I like (Spunky) so much because I know that my Mom was attached to him."

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