Part 31: Dad’s letters about Anzio
From: Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek and his son, Glen Palecek
I’ve been writing a lot about what Dad told me about Anzio. I found this written account Dad wrote about his experience deep in the heart of combat — a story from a letter Dad wrote to Jim Burns. It’s a little break for me to let Dad tell this story in his own words, so here it is:
“The line headquarters and the colonel hadn’t moved for some days. The colonel had the intelligence section set up in a ditch up by the rifle companies. German tanks shot out the telephone lines, so the colonel decided he wanted a radio crew in the outpost. Everyone looked kind of concerned over the possibility of being chosen, so I picked myself and Al Bacon to go with me. I don’t believe Jim Burns was with us yet.
“We sneaked out behind the rubble of the factory where we were dug in. The first third of the L-shaped ditch was lined up right with a German tank battery. The first barrage went over the top of us. We hit the dirt and ran as fast as we could straight toward the tanks. That experience was repeated several times. The last part of the ditch before the curve was over knee-deep in water, so we started climbing on the vine-covered side of the ditch, but our tank barrage finally caught up to us. Bacon got hit in the hand, so we both dropped into the water and walked as fast as we could go around the curve of the ditch.
“The tank gunners couldn’t see us any more, so they quit wasting ammunition on us. Bacon wrapped his bloody hand in a handkerchief, and we kept going. I told him I was going to turn him in for a Purple Heart. He said, “Let it go,” but I wrote it up anyway. I saw his Purple Heart when I went over to their garage in Michigan after the war to put a new motor in my car.
“After we dug in at the outpost, the Germans kept shelling us with mortars. I got sick for two days, and Al Bacon took care of the radio chores. Our dugouts were into the bank near the bottom of the ditch. Mortar shells kept cracking chunks of the roofs of our dugouts.
“We got an unusually heavy barrage, and somebody pulled me to a sitting position just as the roof caved in and buried me up to my neck. Luckily, the Germans quit shelling us at that moment. I don’t remember who dug me out, but by the time we got another hole dug, the Germans launched their famous massive counter-attack, driving the rifle companies back, leaving us behind.
“When we realized they were deserting us, we went down the ditch again. When we got back to headquarters, I ran and told the colonel he had better get some runners out to stop them, because the rifle companies were headed back to the beach. The colonel had just wondered where headquarters company Captain Smith was and ordered him up from where he was hiding back at the motor pool. Our ex-outpost crew was just trying to dig in behind the remains of an old straw stack when a scared Captain Smith showed up and demanded why we were just digging in there. He recognized me, so he was talking to me. I tried to tell him that we had just returned from an outpost, and he said, ‘Palecek, you’re a dammed liar!’
“I said, ‘Have it your way, sir, but I was there.’
“The rifle companies were now too close to headquarters, so the colonel moved headquarters back a ways into a ditch for a few days until the rifle companies recovered the ground.
“The next day, Captain Smith wanted to know if we got everything out of the factory ruble. I told him there was a broken radio that we would get after dark. He ordered me to get it immediately in broad daylight. It would have been cold-blooded murder. I didn’t send anyone until after dark.
“After we pulled back from Rome to get ready to go to southern France, Smith wanted to court-martial me. But that’s another story. To put it briefly, I was called down to the officers’ mess, where they had Smith talk to me, where everyone could hear so he couldn’t do it again. He said, ‘Palecek, you ought to be a lieutenant. You shouldn’t be a second lieutenant, either, but you’re always fighting me.’
“I said, ‘Well, sir, when you called me a dammed liar, and said I was never up at the outpost, it really hurt.’
“He immediately dismissed me.
“We heard a story (true or not?) that the battalion was notified that he was the oldest captain who had gone overseas with the division and had never been promoted or sent home on rotation. I can’t confirm this, but he was sent home right after he talked to me, and we got rid of him.
“A final note: When I first got home from the war, I decided never to write about my personal experiences in the war. So, I am amazed at how much I have written to you.”
I have several comments to make about Dad’s story above: Dad’s youngest sister, Delores, told me that Dad was very silent when he got back from the war. Although Dad pledged not to write about his personal experiences, he did write many of them into his many term papers, speeches, sermons, and lesson plans for his history classes. Also, there are the many stories he told me. I wish he had written these down, too, but, because he didn’t, I have to rely on my memory for most of them. Although Dad may have not wanted to write his story, Mom asked me to do so because she knew Dad had spent so many hours telling me the horrors of this war.
I hope you readers could feel what a real battle situation was like. Can you imagine running at German tanks as they are firing at you? And then doing it again and again as they fired over your head? Imagine what it was like when the deep water in the ditch slowed Dad and Bacon down and the tanks found their range. Imagine what it was like in their foxhole as chunks of the roof fell down around them and finally caved in the hole, burying Dad up to his neck. First-hand stories of war like this one are very precious and need to be preserved.
Last week, I received a note from the editor of a history magazine that he would consider a story about Dad. He wants the story to be from 2,000 to 5,000 words. When I first started writing this series, I got a phone call from a writer for Wisconsin VFW magazine. He wanted me to summarize Dad’s story for print. Both of these requests would be a lot of work, and I will pass, at least for now. I also got an email from a well-known author from California who said, when I finish this book, she would recommend it to her publisher. I have written articles for various magazines in the past, but not for many years. In fact, my first magazine article was published by Field and Stream way back in 1986. I don’t remember when my last article was published, but it was not too many years after my first.