Silver Star — The hard way


(2/28/2018)

Part 10: Dad’s values throughout the war

By Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek, and his son Glen Palecek

In this episode, let me expand on how Dad held onto his Christian values throughout the two years he spent fighting overseas in the European theater of World War II.

First, Dad never smoked, drank, cussed, gambled, or cheated on Mom before, during, or after the war. The Army gave each soldier a somewhat regular ration of cigarettes, and, on rare occasions, a ration of beer. Dad always gave his share away, as he tells Mom in his letters. Dad said other soldiers told him that one day the battles would get to him to the point he would start smoking and swearing, but Dad never did.

Before Dad left home for the Army, Dad worked for a man named Tucker. Mr. Tucker sat Dad down and showed him how easy it was to cheat at cards. Dad probably would have never gambled anyway, but Tucker’s lesson certainly helped Dad not to be tempted.

Dad told me what it was like to grow up in the Depression. There were nine kids in his family, with Dad being the oldest boy. There was hardly enough money to support such a large family during such hard times. His dad was plagued with a bad back. Until his brother Alvin was old enough to help, Dad had to plow the family farm by himself with a team of horses and a single-bottom plow. His chores and farm work often kept him out of school. When he could, he worked for other farmers to save enough money to buy a car. He also trapped muskrats and skunks to earn extra money. (Yes, skunk pelts were valuable.) But then, he found out his parents were about to lose the farm to back taxes. “What else could I do?” Dad asked me. He gave his money to his parents to save the farm.

Dad’s letters to Mom give examples of discussions Dad had with other soldiers about right and wrong. I probably will submit one of these letters. I have a good one, but Dad didn’t write it until he was in France, so I’ll save it until then.

Beside his Christian leadership, Dad was best known in the war for knowing the latest news. Because he was a chief radio operator, he heard a lot of the transmissions between officers. He also listened to news broadcast over a radio hooked up to a jeep battery. Sometimes, the troops got magazines from home. Dad, for instance, was given a subscription to the “Readers Digest” by his youth group back home as a way of supporting him overseas.

In his letters to Mom, Dad asked for socks, soap, and maps. The maps she sent helped Dad to determine where things were happening throughout the war in Europe. I have some of these very tattered maps Dad carried on the battlefields.

Dad could speak and write some German. He easily passed a language proficiency test in German when he earned his PhD. For this degree, he needed to know two foreign languages, and he had a lot more trouble learning Spanish. A few of Dad’s letters to Mom were written partially in German. Mom, a high school English teacher at the time, was always writing back to Dad and correcting his grammar, in both his English and his German.

In one letter Dad wrote right after the Germans killed his best friend, Aubrey Elam, at Anzio, Dad told Mom that he “had no hatred for the Germans.” Look for that story later.

 

For several years after the war, Mom and Dad sent money to a German family to help them recover from the hardships they had endured. This family had a son in the war fighting for the Germans. Mom and Dad were very happy when they learned their son had survived the war. My parents finally stopped sending them money when the dad asked for them to send some cigars. This made Mom and Dad think this family no longer needed their help.

It was truly a miracle that Dad survived the war from North Africa and into Germany. He survived many major battles in Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. If you want to watch a Hollywood version of some of the battles Dad was in, watch “To Hell and Back,” starring Audie Murphy as himself. Dad’s Thunderbird division fought alongside Murphy’s for much of the war. Murphy became a movie star for many more movies, mostly Westerns. Later in this series, I will refer to other movies about the battles Dad was in. Dad’s division suffered over 187 percent casualties, possible only because of constant replacements. Two Colonels were killed when they were with Dad and another had his legs shot off. More on that later. Because he carried a radio on his back, Dad was a prime target for German snipers. I was born in 1952, seven years after the war, and certainly wouldn’t be here without the grace of God watching over Dad.

Dad never told me any stories about World War II without becoming deeply emotional. Many times, he would start by telling me he had vowed not to talk about the war. There was never any joy in his voice when he told how he advanced across Europe. Writing this series has brought back the deep emotions Dad would exhibit when he would suddenly, but quietly, burst out with one of these stories.

I think all of us can learn a lot from Dad. If he can hold fast to his Christian values throughout this terrible war, why can’t we?

So far, I have avoided using the Internet entirely, although I did look up some dates and numbers in old history books. Once I have completed all the episodes, I will try to find out more from outside sources. I plan to then do a re-write and pay to have the stories bound into a book.

Next time, I’ll write about Dad’s letters to Mom from Sicily.

 

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