Part 48: The many duties of Dad in France
By Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek and his son, Glen Palecek
The constant but variable mix of rain, snow, cold, mud, and war plagued Dad throughout his time fighting in Europe. From his letters from France, I see he still spent much of his time in a muddy foxhole wearing a wet uniform and wet socks. The sock situation was feast or famine. In one letter to Mom he would ask for dry socks. Later, he would write he had all the socks he needed. Also, except for the four months in Anzio and the time he spent in hospitals, it seems he never got out of the mountains. He wrote to Mom he didn’t have any desire to see more mountains when they finally had a chance to go on a much-delayed honeymoon.
In France, Dad had many jobs. As radio chief, he was, of course, still in charge of communications for his battalion. He wrote to Mom that the colonel found Dad’s knowledge of what was going on far superior to that which was gathered by the colonel’s lieutenants. Soldiers would often stop him and ask, “What’s the news, Palecek?” Dad always knew far more than he could tell in a sentence or two and so the colonel decided to gather the troops and give Dad an hour to explain the news and current events. Dad spoke to the men until he was too hoarse to talk – two and a half hours later. The colonel was very impressed with the way Dad laid out his assortment of maps and gave his presentation. He told Dad, “You should have been a war correspondent.”
One of Dad’s duties was to instruct new radio operators. Dad told Mom the colonel would often have a jeep and driver waiting for Dad to complete his class so that Dad could report to him and deliver the latest news. Although Dad could speak some German, I see from his letters he was not fluent and had Mom send him a German-English dictionary and write out some key German phrases for him. He practiced by writing some letters to her in German. The Frenchman Dad had with him was fluent in English, French, and German and translated non-English broadcasts for Dad. Dad’s French connection was very much appreciated by the French citizens as Dad was able to correct the false news reports sent out by General Patton. The grateful French even treated Dad and his men to several home-cooked meals.
In one of Dad’s letters from France, he described a foxhole, or dugout as he called it then, as having really good logs and a thick layer of dirt over the top, hardly like the shallow holes you see in documentaries or movies. Inside this hole, Dad wrote his letters to Mom and tried to work on a correspondence course in blueprint writing he got from the University of Wisconsin. (Dad found it very difficult to find time to work on the blueprint assignments.)
Dad would pin pictures of Mom on the earthen sidewalls of his home. Sometimes, an earthworm would fall on Dad’s work; sometimes he shared a flashlight with a soldier who was trying to read a book; and sometimes another little creature such as a mouse would watch from a corner. Dad did not write about how bad conditions were to Mom because he didn’t want to worry her.
Dad did write to his representatives about the conditions of war, but had to be careful about what he wrote or his letters would not get by Army censors. The men knew of Dad’s efforts and told him he was wasting his time writing to Congress and no one would ever read his letters. I would like to continue this story by quoting Dad from an article he wrote:
“After one of the battles, men started walking up to me, shaking my hand and offering congratulations. One of them finally laughed and said, ‘That’s some senator you fellows have in Wisconsin.’ They had just learned from ‘Stars and Stripes’ [the Army newspaper] that Senator Fighting Bob LaFollette had got Congress to pass the G.I. Bill to help soldiers go to college after the war.”
After the war, Dad wrote more letters to his representatives, but doubted any of them were ever read. He wrote he was ready to testify against General Patton but was never given the chance before Patton was killed in the before mentioned “accident.” There will always be the question of whether Patton was deliberately killed to prevent an embarrassing court martial.
Here’s a story which comes from one of Dad’s sermons. I’ll do my best to briefly state the details as Dad delivered it one Sunday morning in Chetek, Wis.
Ordinary soldiers who were convicted of crimes in World War II were dealt with much the same way King David dealt with one of his soldiers, Uriah, in the Bible. In the Bible story, King David has an affair with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and gets her pregnant. To cover-up this affair from Uriah, David has him sent to the front with orders to his general that Uriah is to be put in a position where he is sure to be killed. After Uriah was killed, King David married Bathsheba and added her to his harem. Just like in the Bible story, two of the men who carried out Patton’s murders were sent to the front where they were killed. Another soldier Dad knew of who held up an elderly French couple at gunpoint was also sent to the front. This was the Army’s easy way to deal with soldiers who committed crimes during this war. In Europe, Patton, although married, had a long-running love affair with a much younger nurse named Jean Gordon. One day, he found out she was also having an affair with a young officer. Patton “solved” this problem by immediately sending Gordon’s other lover to the front. As the saying goes, “All is fair in love and war.” Was God watching? In the case from the Bible, King David was severely punished by God and his son by Bathsheba lived only seven days. As for Patton, he had two combat armies, which he held dearly, taken from him for his many misdeeds in this war. By all accounts, Patton truly loved ordering men into combat and taking away two fighting armies was severe punishment to him.
The strain on Dad’s eyes from working so much in the dimly-lit foxhole was too much and he began to have trouble seeing. He went to the Army hospital to have his eyes checked. He thought this should take no more than an hour or two, but they kept him there for three days, time enough to at least partially recover. They finally told him he was far-sighted and gave him a pair of reading glasses.
While in France, Dad received a letter from his dad that Dad’s younger brother, Alvin, was missing in action. I hope to give you the heart-wrenching story of Alvin’s death soon. I think I will call that episode “Two Brothers at War,” and compare Alvin’s part in fighting the Japanese with Dad’s part fighting the Germans. So much to tell! I know this series is getting long, but I am constantly encouraged by so many of you telling me you are enjoying it.
I am almost finished with the next episode. It is about the men at the front and the “wannabe heroes” who were not.