World War II Veterans I Remember

My Parents

Life was treacherous.  Once a Japanese collaborator infiltrated and threw ammunition into the campfire killing himself, because the Americans hit the dirt.  Each member including my dad had a message sew within the inside of the navy pilot jackets written in Chinese, Mandarin and East Indian that “this soldier was cooperating with the joint Chinese American forces and there was a $10K reward for the soldiers return.”  After his enlistment, my father re-enlisted in the marines, but having married my mother and a new born son, he was persuaded to rejoin the civilians after the war.  He was decommissioned through intervention of Illinois United States Senator Dirksen. 

My father’s brother, Bruno, served in the United States Army in Guadalcanal, Africa, Italy and Europe, in Patton’s brigade.  During the infamous march to rescue the surrounded air force paratroopers, dressed impeccably he yelled to the soldiers to take the sand bags off the tanks because they were slowing the progress of the column of armor.

He encouraged the rank and file shouting, “I got the guts and you have the blood to spill.” When my uncle met General Eisenhower he said that everyone was quiet and did not say much because after all he was the “supreme commander” of the war effort.  Uncle Bruno spoke of the danger of Nazi sharpshooters, of strolling threw German castles, and he had the German pistol, and pictures to prove it.

A neighbor, Mr. Golde, in his mid eighties recalled landing at Normandy beaches and being among the first to take some of the first French towns in that region.  When the military police were giving Patton’s men some flack, Patton responded to them by saying, “We took this town once and we can do it again.”  The military police backed off.  General Patton noted that the men in the rear had taken the best winter issued boots leaving the soldiers at the front with shoes and leggings.  He ordered one of the rear battalion’s members to surrender his shoes and yelled out lifting the new military boots, “Who needs a size nine?”  So his men received the sorely needed warm boots for the dauntless task before them, to push the Nazis back into Germany.

My brother-in-law’s uncle, Mr. Wysocki, told me of being a brave Polish pilot in England during the siege.  He said that in the time he flew for the Royal Air Force, two of every three Polish pilots perished in the skies over Great Britain protecting the civilians gearing up for the upcoming invasion of France.  He noted that every night the pilots would drink and party because they knew that the next day might be their last.  The exploits of those Polish pilots are among the most glorious in World War II, for their heroism bought England and America the time to gear up the Allied war machine to eventually defeat the Axis.  At my alma mater, Northwestern University, in the chemistry department at the Technological Institute is an award bestowed on the chemists who developed a new formula to extract a few more octane of power in the fuel for the airplanes and pilots that fought for freedom.

My colleague, Kenneth G. Busch, M.D., former president of the Illinois Psychiatric Society, told me about his uncle who served as an Army surgeon in Europe during the war.  After successfully saving a Nazi prisoner, on post-surgical rounds, the patient discovering that a Jew had saved his life, spit into Dr. Busch’s face.  He responded by punching the prisoner patient cold to the applause of his peers.  A college classmate, Larry Sullivan, Jr.’s father, Larry Sullivan, told me about being an air force squadron commander over France and Germany during the war and how harrowing it was on missions when many did not return from B-52 bombing raids.

On the Pacific side of the war, my college friend’s father, Mr. Belford also had interesting feats to relate.  He attended Lane Technical High School, not far from the Jackowo neighborhood Poles know in Chicago.   He and his friends learned to weld aluminum in metal shop.  After graduation he was able to attend the University of Illinois in architecture because of a United States Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship.  After Pearl Harbor and an expedited basic training, he and his friends were shipped off to Hawaii.  The admirals discovered that these teenagers had a valuable skill. Within hours, these young adolescents were commanding crews of 150 to 200 men in welding aluminum patches onto the hulls of the sunken ships in the harbor.  Within a few short months, the pride of the United States Navy was sailing out of Pearl Harbor in search of Japanese prey to avenge the deaths of thousands of American sailors surprised the fateful Sunday morning.  After Mr. Belford was shot out from under two navy ships and rescued from the cold Pacific sea, he insisted on his right to a landside appointment.  He was commissioned to go up the Yangtze River to Beijing, China.  There he was taking soundings of the harbor.  With him were 500 sailors and 850 marines.  While stationed there he noticed every night more and more campfires of the oncoming Mao Tse Tung’s Red Chinese Army.  He eventually radioed for a few navy ships to come a gracefully withdraw from an unwinnable situation.

My doctoral chairman, Norman D. Bowers, Ph.D., a naval officer who helped train aircraft carrier pilots during the Korean War reducing the death rates from 50 to 33% mentioned that he met at the naval base in Mobile, Alabama, the rear admiral, whose claim to fame was being the naval pilot who discovered the Japanese armada before the Battle of Midway.  Being a wise man, he asked, “What went through your mind when you looked down through those clouds and saw all those Japanese guns pointed up at you?”  The renowned admiral retorted, “I went to the bathroom in my pants.”  Of a much earlier period, Norman once showed me a letter from his great-great-great grandfather to his wife.  One day in 1865 his Ohio cavalry regiment bivouacked with a group of southern Confederates in Tennessee.  After surrounding the enemy, his ancestor related that as he rode his horse to the center of the encamped and surrendering soldiers, out of the commander’s tent strode President Jefferson Davis, one of the last holdouts of the Civil War Confederates, who then surrendered his sword.  This was the last important remnant of resistance after Appomattox.

I remember Mr. Robert Falconer, a businessman from Riverside, Illinois, a beautiful suburb of Chicago designed by the man who drew up Central Park in New York. Robert’s father was the town blacksmith, and he carried on with an auto body and repair business.  In the mid thirties a German family with four sons moved to town.  The boys after high school each attended West Point, Annapolis, the air force and marine academy in Colorado.  All during the war the father and the mother kept a neon sign in the window.  After the war the father died.  The sons returned and after the funeral there was a big bonfire in the back yard as they burned the Nazi paper records.  There were many German advance plants in the United States.  Two German submarines lie at the bottom of Lake Michigan not far off Wilmette harbor, a suburb of Chicago.  Even on the west coast Japanese bombs were sent by balloons to Washington State.  There were many small groups of Germans released from submarines that were rounded up and put in prison or shot.

Matt Louis Urban, ( Mateusz Urbanowicz)The most decorated World War II veteran was a Polish American named Matt Urban (Urbanowicz) who came from Buffalo, New York.  As a child he developed a reputation of protecting his brothers and friends from the neighborhood bully.  After graduating from high school his father offered him a job as plumber’s apprentice.  He followed that with attending Cornell University, working in the fraternity kitchen to help pay for room and board.  After joining the track team he took up boxing beating the West Point and Annapolis champs and winning the intercollegiate championship.  Having joined the ROTC he was appointed second lieutenant of the infantry reserve and retired a lieutenant colonel due to wounds.  He was give the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Stars, seven Purple Hearts, and the Croix de Guerre part of 29 U.S., French, and Belgian military decorations making him the most decorated American soldier in history.  Here is his story of heroism.

On 14 June 1944 with a bazooka he destroyed two tanks while under a continuing barrage of fire being wounded in the leg.  The next day he led his company at Orglandes.  Being evacuated to England he returned on 25 July to direct an attack at the enemy strong point.  After the lieutenant and sergeant were killed, he personally dashed through scathing fire and mounted the tank ordering it forward while manning the machine gun.  This he did while hampered with a leg wound.   His actions galvanized the battalion who destroyed the enemy.  On 2 August he was wounded in the chest but refused evacuation and again was wounded on 15 August still remaining with his unit. On 3 September at Meuse River near Heer, Belgium he personally led a charge toward the enemy’s strong point.  He was seriously wounded in the neck but was able to whisper commands. He refused to be evacuated, until the enemy was routed. The Germans nicknamed him “der geist” or “the ghost” because he kept coming back after being shot seven times.   His leadership, limitless bravery, and repeated extraordinary exposure to enemy fire inspired his battalion and his valor and actions reflect the utmost credit to him, his Polish heritage and the noble traditions of the United States.

——————————————————————————————————————–Robert John Zagar was born at Great Lakes Naval Hospital north of Chicago.  His mother was a Navy Wave nurse.  Uncles served as paratroopers, marines, and soldiers in Europe, Africa, and Asia during World War II.  One uncle died and another was wounded.  Uncle Bruno received the Bronze and Silver Star.   Robert completed a doctorate from the best program in the world in research design and statistics.  He had fellowships in the study of sleep and public health prevention.  He completed two years premedical and basic medical sciences.  His research on predicting dangerousness will eventually help organizations protect themselves from violent individuals.  He was married in Poland.  He has visited nine times.  His paternal and maternal grandparents migrated to the United States a century ago.  His high school classmate, Archbishop James Harvey, served in the Vatican as the American secretary to John Paul II and currently is prefect of the papal household of Benedict XVI.  Robert has written many articles and chapters and spoken to CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and numerous print and radio media about his research.  An upcoming monograph in a peer reviewed professional journal will outline the development of homicide, how to predict dangerousness, and solutions.  He is professor, clinical and school psychologist, and officer at the first and oldest juvenile court, the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.  He and his wife started the Society of the Friends of Radgoszcz to engender and continue close cultural and historical ties between Americans and Poles in Chicago.   Robert and Agata serve as the president and vice president of the nonprofit charitable group whose aim is to help youth.