– To wy Polacy? (So you’re Poles ?)
– A niby kto? (And who else could be ?) I answered.
When we had explained him that we were willing to join the American Army, he said: Ja tu nie decyduje. Z tym trzeba do pulkownika. Ale najpierw posle po Sagale, zeby thumaczyl, bo mnie za ciezko (I don’t decide on those matters. You should go with it to the Colonel. But firstly, I will call Corporal Sagala. He will be your translator because I can’t speak Polish as good as he) He took us to a courtyard of the house in which the regimental headquarters was installed, kept us waiting, and went away for a long while trying to find Sagala. Corporal Steve Sagala was speaking Polish as well as we were doing it and only his « r » was rather else than our Polish ‘r’. He was in the reconnoitering company. So we were taken by Cpl Sagala and the Captain from the courtyard into the house, in the Colonel’s office. In this office, the Captain passed him our matter.
– So you want to become an American soldier, don’t you? Asked the Colonel. Steve Sagala stood behind him, stooping a little, and repeated his words in Polish language and then our words in English. (We neither spoke English nor understood it). It all lasted very long because we were interrogated scrupulously, with visible suspicion. At the end of it, the Colonel waved it aside and told something to Sagala. Sagala knocked with his heels and shouted: Yes Sir! – You two are accepted, pointing his finger at Pedrak and Peksa. From now on you are American soldiers. Then pointing at me, you, you are too young for us. At this particular moment, I thought I had misheard. What does this mean: too young? I am 17 years old! I exclaimed with despair. I was sufficient to hack and a spade, so I should be sufficient to a rifle as well!
My words were translated to the Colonel. The Colonel waved it aside once more, told something to Sagala which saluted shouting: Yes Sir! and we were taken by him outside. The Captain who was a silent witness of the scene had shaken his head to us, encouragingly. This was the last time we saw this man. – You are accepted as well, said Sagala to me. And he added, quoting surely the Colonel’s last words: When somebody wants so hastily to meet the death, if he please, we don’t forbid, and he conducted the three of us into the weapons section. I got the equipment and a rifle. The uniform I was given was incomplete because they didn’t find a fitting helmet for me. All the ones they had were too large. At last, the impatient storekeeper told me: we have no suitable helmet for you but don’t worry, you will find the proper one on the front line! He then gave me underneath and a soft skin helmet (in Poland named ‘pilotka’ Pilot Cap), with a lining made from sheep hair. This cap had a bad odor. I didn’t get any ID Tags (Dog Tags) to carry my Army Serial Number, Names, etc. This lack made me later have a lot of complications when, after the war (1969-1970), in America, I tried to get veteran rights. The rifle they gave me was the same as the other soldiers, the 8 shots semi-automatic M-1 Rifle caliber 30.06. This M-1 rifle wasn’t new. I think that I had it after another soldier (perhaps killed or wounded in action) who use it before because the name ‘Rosalie’ was carved into the butt-end.
Anyway, I had now a rifle and this was the first time in my life I had one in my hands. After having received all our combat equipment, Corporal Sagala told us to follow him and led us to the area of King Company, 3rd Battalion, 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division – Yankee Division, and introduced us to the comrades as new soldiers. (My Polish name is properly pronounced as ‘Pyontkoffsky’ because of the tongue-let under the Polish letter ‘a, so I used this form. But they called me usually ‘Pollack’ (the Pole). This same day, or rather by this night, because it lasted the whole night until daybreak, we’ve gone through the course of using a weapon. Instructions were led by Steve Sagala personally, as our first teacher. But the practice came not before then at the front line. This one man was also our translator during the war and combat. For me, this was the way I switched from a forced worker in a German Camp to an American soldier in K-101/26-ID (Third Army). We stayed in King Co through the rest of the war and even sometime after the war, located in Pernik, Czechoslovakia. With our rifles, we were in combat as all the other normal soldiers. Many times, I did good use of my rifle named Rosalie.
King Company consisted of about a hundred soldiers and was divided into platoons which were made of squads. If I correctly remember, I was in the 3rd Platoon. After co-opting us we were each assigned to a Squad of fifteen men. In this Squad, a group of five Polish people, although only three of us had our home in Poland. Steve Sagala and Joseph Galla were Americans of Polish origin, as it is usually named in Poland. Yet Franek Peksa, Bronek Pedrak and myself, we were true born Poles.
But in compliance with an advice, which didn’t please us, we haven’t flaunted it. Here is the composition of our Squad in the 3rd Platoon: Franek Peksa: Polish man; Bronislaw Pedrak: Polish man and Citizen; Gregorio Reyna: Mexican origin; Steve Sagala: American of Polish origin; Joseph Cragnelli: American of Italian origin; Donald Egan: Original Yankee, perhaps Scottish origin; Norman Ribiero: American with a Russian mother; Dallas Miller: Original Yankee; Charles Salomon Freedman: American Jew; he was a very good dancer; I remember him to dance on a quarter when the pathefon played the song titled ‘Ramona’; Richard Engelman: Original Yankee; Joseph Galla: American of Polish origin; Donald Ely: Original Yankee, perhaps Scottish origin; Joseph B. Wise Jack E. McGalley (or Galvey): attached to King Co later; Stephen Fuller: attached to King Co later; Bolycki: American of Polish origin, formerly in the Military Police, attached to King Co after the war in Pernek, Czechoslovakia; Boleslaw Piatkowski (me): A Pole and Polish citizen; and the Sergeant (I don’t remember his name)
I remember very well the Commanding Officer of King Co, Capt Antonio (Anthony) Caruso which was, of course, an American of Italian origin. I could easily pronounce this name, and it was also easy to remember. The same name had a famous Italian tenor (Enrico Caruso), about whom I’ve heard earlier from my older brother, who would be a tenor as well (this desire became reality after the war, in a famous Polish choir, but even in the partisan unit my brother had the pseudonym ‘Spiewak’ (Singer).
So during my entire war route, Capt Caruso was associated in my mind with singing and with my brother. There was also another officer in King Co; Model (such is the Polish pronunciation for this name). I also remember very well a guy named Clinton Lindberg, a soldier from another platoon, a man I am still exchanging letters with these days (2005). Because I was a Polish man (and citizen) and didn’t know the English language, my conversations were usually in the Polish language. In my Squad, there were, as I said, five of us (Polish), so I had them to talk with. We had also another Polish-speaking man: Joseph Michalewicz, an American of Polish origin who was the chief cook in the field kitchen. I’ve known him very well. A short while after this Staszek Ciejka reappeared. As he told us when he had lost sight of us in Kahl am Main and could not find us again in the dense crowd of American soldiers, he joined also the US Army on his own. He was sent as a replacement in the crew of a Sherman Tank, in Combat Command A of the Third Army’s Armored Division. Of course, our earlier daily contact has become now sporadic and limited to occasional meetings on greater halts. And it became a rule till the end of the war.
During my service as Recon trooper in King Co, we marched out to the front as the spearhead of the Yankee Division. It was, as I thought, a rule. We were usually advancing along a road, going in single file, keeping a space of a few meters between one another, fifty men on one side of the road and fifty on the other. During the march, conversations were forbidden. In the forefront, we could see Capt Caruso and his Radioman. We were going as far as the end of the no man’s land, i.e. to standing out German positions.
Sometimes we saw Germans from the distance, not being visible to them, and sometimes we had to engage them when they attacked us unexpectedly. Our main objective was to discover the number of enemies. When the Germans thought that we were the main American forces, there was a lot of concentrated fire. Capt Caruso was then radioing to the regimental headquarters and after that, he usually ordered to hold off the place until tanks would arrive, or to retreat if the German’s defenses were too strong. If we had to hold, we immediately dug foxholes in the ground to avoid being hit by mortars or artillery shells.
In our combat activity elements of improvisation predominated because within a few seconds our advantage could be transformed into one disadvantage and vice versa. But before I learned what in our operations was a rule: the baptism of fire. It happened as early as the next day after my liberation from the slave workers’ camp. After Kahl is Main, the next objective for the Yankee Division was the city of Alzenau, located about 8 kilometers in the northeast (this direction was kept as far as Fulda). To move ahead to Alzenau we didn’t go on the main road but went into a wood to hide our presence for as long as possible because we were ordered to take the city without any help or support. On the other side of the woods, near the town, we were surprised by enemy gunfire and the rifle shots raised for a few minutes. In this combat, I did good use of my M-1 rifle for the first time in this war and also in my life. I don’t know if I killed someone that day. I also had two hand grenades: one anti-personal and one smoke, and two rifle grenades, but I didn’t use them in this battle. Germans weren’t much more numerous than we were but they had much better positions, earlier prepared for combat. I was told by Sagala that I shouldn’t be afraid. The German forces were now in such a dispersion that they wouldn’t get any supplies and would never decide to counterattack. Anyway, along the woods and in the front of the town, our tactical location was much worse than the German one and it could end with unnecessary casualties for us.
Such was the point of view of Capt Caruso as well as the rest of us. Capt Caruso gave them an order to retreat and, incessantly shooting back, we ran back inside the woods. German bullets whizzed near our heads and cut off branches of trees. After a few minutes shots calmed down and we changed our march direction and passed around the town of Alzenau, going towards the main road which was leading from Frankfurt am Main to Fulda. On that road the lorries from our Division overtook us and by the night gave us a lift to the place where we could see the first buildings of Fulda’s suburb in the dark background of the sky.
It was then during the night. King Co was given a lift by trucks of the divisional lorries to the place where the first houses of Fulda’s suburb could be seen. During the way car’s headlights were off and the lorries stopped at such a distance from the town that the engine’s noises couldn’t be heard by the Germans if there were many in the town. The last stretch of the road we surmounted on foot. We slipped by fences, stooping, not seen by anybody. I was surprised at the dead silence: no feelers, not even a sign of any organized defense. Yet, I was told that the Germans were in permanent flight, leaving the positions and that only Volksturm’s teams were left for covering the retreat and keeping back the American’s march. There was absolutely nobody. If I was then an experienced soldier, this silence would have made me sniff a soon-to-come ambush. But this very silence has put us on the right track.
Going on forward we suddenly heard loud voices and laughter coming from a large house surrounded by vast gardens and farm buildings. The windows were in full black-out, but when we approached there we were quite sure that the voices originated from this place. They were very distinct German voices of happy-go-lucky as if convivial, human life. We attacked this object, aiming at doors and windows, and a short while later, when Capt Caruso stopped the gunfire, a white flag fastened on a long pole was put out of one window. We captured then about fifty German soldiers. They did not incline the further soldiering and preferred to spend the last whiles of their freedom on feasting. So they had killed a pig, backed it and they were just eating the roast and drinking French cognac when we began to shoot. Of course, the roast meat and French cognac were taken by us as well, as the booty.
The prisoners were gathered in one of the rooms upstairs and ordered to sit on the floor, squeezed together like fishes in a can. Capt Caruso has set me to guard them. So I was sitting in a rocking chair, in front of the open doors of the room, with my M-1 rifle on my knees. While rocking I was looking at the full in their faces. Perhaps I must have looked rather insolently because they could not stand my eyes and turned their glance aside, as if for fear that I could be provoked by their too resolute or proud glance. But I was simply very taken up with my new part. In the same measure, I was afraid that somebody could suddenly start up and run away; and then my debut as a guard would not be successful. So I did not let them out of my sight. It was uninterrupted for an hour.
While the men were feasting downstairs they forgot all about me, but, about an hour later, someone came up and brought me a bottle of French cognac.
The guy told to me: ‘You must not stare at them in such a non-stop way. They were waiting for us and they will, for sure, not run away. Following this good advice, I kept rocking and opened the bottle. It wasn’t a long time before I experienced a feeling which was earlier unfamiliar to me: an odd mix of dizziness, impudence, and gaiety. I had only killed half the bottle. A short while later, I felt sleepy and was almost asleep when Capt Caruso came up, saw me in the rocking chair, saw the bottle, and relieved me from guard duty. Because I was not able to walk by myself. A couple of men came up, grabbed me by arms and legs, dragged me out, and dropped me in a feather–bed. When I woke up, the sun was high in the sky. I was told by my comrades that after my indisposition Capt Caruso didn’t designate anyone to the guard duty and that not a single German had run away or tried to do it. They were safe and sound, still sitting in the same room. While trying to get out of the fog, I felt bad: bodily and morally. So I went to Capt Caruso’s PC and told in self-justification that I drank alcohol for the first time in my life and I didn’t know that it would have such an effect on me. Capt Caruso smiled and told me not to worry about that. I was happy because I wasn’t punished.
We stayed there for the whole day, waiting for the main forces. During this day liberated forced farmhands were coming up to us as if we were the whole American Army yet. Because we had to hold the place and keep the prisoners of war we had captured, these forced farmhands stayed in the area with us, waiting for the next American troops. Later, when the troops came in, we released the area and the prisoners were sent to the rear.
The same day, the Yankee Division got new orders and moved ahead to seize Fulda. At nightfall, we then left the area on foot, and near Fulda, our unit was ordered to bypass this city and as a Recon unit, we moved to another objective. So we did not take part in the hard struggles for Fulda but I think that it should not be forgotten that the first unit of the 26th Infantry Division to reach the outskirts of Fulda, to liberate forced farm-hands and take prisoners was our company.
The city of Sonneberg was captured by King Co. When we entered the town, there was sudden gunfire directed against us, lead by Volkssturm troops in the age of a Hitlerjugend scout (16-17 years old). Quickly, we were in combat and after less than half an hour, the victory belonged to us. I participated in the action as every other American soldier in the unit. It was not an exceptional event. King Co didn’t suffer a single casualty. I do remember that one of these German boys still alive after the skirmish was armed with an MP-38/40 Schmeisser Machine Pistol and he wasn’t even 10 years old. We decided to treat him like a bad son. He got several slaps on his bottom and was sent, crying, back to mama.
Sixty years later I found in the War Diary of 101st Infantry Regiment, led in the headquarters as current daily work, a note that Sonneberg was taken without even a shot being fired. When the main forces following us came into the town, it was really without a shot being fired.
While clearing the town of Sonneberg King Co took possession of a weapon factory. All the weapons from the factory had to be placed in the City Hall, together with the weapon captured from Volkssturm. I had an order to superintend this operation. The order was executed by me properly. All the time there was the Director of this factory together with me. He was a man of goodwill and was thankful to me for good treatment. He presented me from his own unexpected will with a golden lighter. I think today that he was probably willing to protect himself from an imaginary danger on my part. But at that moment I was certain that he was very grateful, My Sarge was very pleased with this lighter, and I gave him this war souvenir on the same day. During the short rest in Sonneberg, I met my countryman and larger comrade Stanislaw Ciejka (CCA) again. He told me that he had been cited in the morning report because he and his American comrade had stopped a German military train, killing the locomotive driver and forcing his helper to stop the train.
It was a few kilometers after Sonneberg that we made our way towards a wall of a forest in which there was to be a stay as promised by Capt Caruso. Suddenly, when we were still in the open, German shells and shrapnel began to burst above our heads. They were Germans ones, as I was told because our troops didn’t use such a kind of shell. Eight after we clang to the ground, there were also tremendous explosions of large artillery shells – this time it was our artillery. We were lying prone not having any shelter nor even any ground depression. I’ve felt a strange warmth ramifying from my back to the rest of my body. I didn’t know what it could be, for I’d never experienced such a feeling. Behind me, our stretcher-bearer was lying. I’ve heard his voice: ‘You, Pollack, I go to you’. He crawled to me and began to pull out dressings from his medical bag. I didn’t know what it was. ‘You got a shell splinter in your back’ – he explained. I didn’t understand the English language but his gesture and gesticulation were such intelligible that I understood him very well. And there was blood on my back when I touched it. Capt Caruso called his radioman and got in connection with our headquarters.
He screamed that we were under their fire and that they shouldn’t shell us as a target. After a few minutes, this friendly fire ceased and the only thing that consequently annoyed us was this German shrapnel fire. We retreated without casualties. I could still go without any help. The splinter was taken out of my back by the Medic in the Aid Station and I was properly bandaged. My wound was not the lucky one, as not dangerous, it was declared fit for combat and sent back to King Co. At this same time when I was in the Aid Station, our artillery – aiming precisely – has disposed of the enemy shrapnel fire nests. And we could go forward again.
March 15, 2022, 1453
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