Muriel Bachant was just 22 and the mother of 4-month-old triplet girls when her husband, Herbert Bachant of the Army's 4th Armored Division during World War II, was reported missing in action in France, two months after D-Day.
"I hope the Americans will get him back from the Germans as we advance, and then I hope they'll send him home," she told reporters at her Bronx apartment in August 1944.
"I don't want people to feel sorry for me. I'm no different from any other wife whose husband is out there risking his life."
To accommodate media photographers, the Teaneck native placed little Janet Lee, Nancy Sue and Karen Ann together on a cozy upholstered chair.
There would be no happy ending. Word arrived that Herbert Bachant had been killed in the vicinity of Rennes, in the Brittany region. He never got to see his daughters.
Muriel Bachant pressed on with help from her mother and volunteer nurses. She remarried and became Muriel McKeag. She gave birth to another daughter, Donna Jean, and in 1949 the family moved to the newly built Foster Village garden apartments in Bergenfield.
That is where Mrs. McKeag lived without fanfare as a dedicated homemaker until her death Feb. 9, at age 90.
The triplets, widely photographed during the war years they were the centerpiece of a Manhattan rally that racked up $3.75 million in War Bonds sales are nearing 69. Nancy Bachant lives near Seattle, Dr. Janet Bachant in Manhattan and Karen Sellars in England. Nancy and Karen are identical; Janet is fraternal.
Nancy, who has researched the story of her father's death, recalled that her mother was devastated but determined to make a good life for her daughters.
"She was focused on raising the three of us to go to college," Nancy said. And they did. Nancy, Janet and Karen, who were known by their stepfather's surname growing up in Bergenfield, studied at Pennsylvania's Lebanon Valley College at U.S. government expense. on Uncle Sam's dime.
The triplets were told of their father's war death when they were about 4 years old. At 18, they honored him by taking back his surname.
Nancy said her mother, the former Muriel Snyder, stressed education because Muriel and Herbert had only ninth-grade educations.
Muriel was 15 when she met Herbert, a dashing Clifton native with a neatly trimmed mustache. He was in his late 20s and drove a bus on a Teaneck route.
"Mom would ride his bus and I guess he was flirting with her," Nancy said. "He was quite the ladies' man, apparently."
They married several weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Herbert was called back to duty with the Army after the attack. The triplets were conceived in July 1943 while Muriel was visiting her husband at his training base in Texas.
Herbert was shipped out to England in January 1944; the girls were born in a New York hospital on March 30, 1944. Their arrival was big news in an era before fertility treatments made multiple births more common.
In an Associated Press photograph published in the April 27, 1944, edition of The New York Times, a beaming Herbert Bachant shows a picture of his wife and newborn daughters to two other soldiers in a slit trench.
Herbert Bachant and several comrades were killed Aug. 1, 1944, when their half-track vehicle was hit by German fire. But for all Muriel knew, her husband was missing in action until the awful communiqué from the War Department arrived that Sept. 21.
Nancy said her mother was indebted to the nurses who helped in the months after Herbert was killed. Some were dispatched by the Practical Nurses of New York Inc. On May 17, 1946, the 2-year-old triplets, dressed in blue pinafores and white bonnets, blew kisses to the practical nurses at their New York City convention.
Sixteen years later, The Record profiled Janet, Nancy and Karen in an article that carried the headline: "Readying triplets for college similar to military maneuver."
That was the last time this newspaper wrote about the Bachant triplets until their mother's obituary today.
Jack McKeag, her second husband, died in 1992.
Muriel Snyder Bachant McKeag was remembered by daughter Nancy as a "determined, perceptive, intelligent and stubborn" woman who befriended and taught English to the immigrant families who became her neighbors at the garden apartments.
In addition to the triplets, Mrs. McKeag is survived by her daughter Donna McHenry of Long Beach, Calif., and six grandchildren.
Nancy said the sisters plan to inter their mother's ashes with Herbert's remains at Hampton National Cemetery in Virginia.
"That was her last wish," Nancy said. "She told me a month ago she wanted to be buried with Herbie."
Published in The Record on Feb. 20, 2013