Alfred “Buddy” Lubojacky: His Family Never Forgot

Sergeant Lubojacky’s body was found near the Czechoslovakian village of Merboltice on February 15, 1945. A partially opened parachute lay next to him. Where the Germans buried him remains a mystery.

 

Alfred Lubojacky, known to his family as Buddy, was born January 29, 1924, in Texas. He was one of eight children born to Joseph and Louise Lubojacky. Both his paternal and maternal grandparents had immigrated to the United States (US) from Czechoslovakia in the late 1800s. Alfred grew up working on the family farm and spoke both English and Czech.

In 1944 Alfred joined the US Army Air Corps and was trained as a B-17 “Flying Fortress” gunner. His brother, Roman, was already serving in the US Army in Europe. Before Alfred left the US for England in November of 1944, he travelled home to Texas for a visit with his family and his girlfriend, Katherine.

In England Alfred was assigned as a B-17 ball turret* gunner with the 8th Air Force, 306th Bomb Group, 369th Bomb Squadron, based at Thurleigh.

On February 14, 1945, the bombing target was the marshalling (railroad) yards at Dresden, Germany. After dropping the bombs, the B-17s were attacked by German Fockewulf (FW)-190 fighter planes. Machine gun and cannon fire from a FW-190 hit the right wing and fuselage of Sergeant (SGT) Lubojacky’s plane. SGT McDonough, the waist gunner, SGT Nahmias, the tail gunner, and SGT Lubojacky were wounded. The damaged B-17 was forced to drop out of flying formation.

Captain (CPT) Lewis, the pilot, knew the plane would not make it back to England. He decided to fly into Czechoslovakia and try to land behind the Russian ally front line there.

The situation in the B-17 worsened. Fires were burning in the fuselage and the Number 3 engine. CPT Lewis gave the order to bail out. While preparing to leave the plane, SGT McDonough saw SGT Lubojacky’s head above the ball turret escape hatch. He was conscious, but there was blood on his head. Lieutenant (LT) Whitelaw, the co-pilot, also saw SGT Lubojacky when he was climbing out of the ball turret. What happened to him after that is unknown.

CPT Lewis was the last to bail out. He set the plane to fly in a specific direction hoping it would come down in a unpopulated area. The B-17 crashed in a field near the Czechoslovakian village of Hridelec.

All the crew managed to bail out. Eight of the nine crew members became prisoners of war. SGT Lubojacky was killed.

SGT Lubojacky’s body was found on February 15, 1945, by the local police near the Czechoslovakian village of Merboltice (called Mertendorf by the Germans). A document has been found indicating that he may have been buried in the Czechoslovakian village of Vernerice cemetery.

In the early hours of February 14, 1945, and around the same time the B-17 crashed in Czechoslovakia, Alfred’s mother in Texas had a dream. In the dream he was crying, and she asked him what was wrong. He said, “I’ll never get to see Katherine again.”

A Western Union telegram dated March 3, 1945, informed the Lubojacky family that Alfred was missing in action.

Telegram 03-Mar-45 (2)

Alfred’s family has never given up hope that they will someday locate his grave. And then they will bring him home.

 

Czech Republic historian, Milos Podzimek, wrote, “Alfred died on 14 February 1945 for our freedom in the country of his ancestors, but he will live forever in our hearts.” Milos and his son have done extensive and detailed research on Alfred’s plane. Their information has been invaluable in putting together the story of the fate of the B-17 and its crew.

Story as told to me by Walter Lubojacky, Alfred’s brother. The photographs and story are posted with his permission.

After no further information was found indicating that he was alive, SGT Alfred S. Lubojacky was officially declared killed in action a year later on February 15, 1946.  

Katherine married after WWII. In later years she sometimes attended Lubojacky family reunions. Katherine died in 2008.

All of Alfred’s B-17 crew members and his brother, Roman, returned to the US after WWII ended.

B-17 crew members:

CPT Boylston Lewis, Jr., Pilot
LT Robert Whitelaw, Co-Pilot
LT Lester Harrison, Navigator
LT Joseph Sicard, Bombardier
Technical SGT James Standlee, Jr., Flight Engineer
SGT Hardin McChesney, Jr., Radio Operator
SGT Frank McDonough, Waist Gunner
SGT Leon Nahmias, Tail Gunner
SGT Alfred Lubojacky, Ball Turret Gunner

In 1993, Czechoslovakia formally separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

* Ball turret — a rotating, manned, gun turret mounted on the underside of a  US B-17 “Flying Fortress.”

 

Odd Man (Bear) Out: Corporal Wojtek, Polish II Corps WWII

Wojtek with Polish Soldier
Wojtek with a Polish Soldier

 

In September 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and divided Poland.  Approximately two million Polish citizens were deported by the Soviets to labor camps or imprisoned.  After Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, with the subsequent Sikorski-Mayski Agreement of July 30, 1941, and the Polish-Soviet Military Agreement of August 14, 1941,  the Soviets released  thousands of Poles to fight with the Allies. Under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders, the Poles left the Soviet Union and made their way to the Middle East.  Once there, the Poles formed the Polish II Corps and fought under British command.

A brown bear first became part of Polish WWII history in 1942. When the Poles reached Persia (Iran), they met a young boy who sold them a orphaned bear cub. The bear became a mascot for the Polish II Corps.   The Polish soldiers named him Wojtek (Voytek in English). As the bear grew he became more than a mascot and fit very well into army life. He learned how to smoke, enjoy a beer, wrestle and relax with his fellow soldiers, eat army food, go on guard duty, salute, nod his head when addressed, and liked riding in trucks. Wojtek and his fellow soldiers developed a camaraderie that would last a lifetime.

Wojtek moved with the soldiers from Persia, to Palestine, to Iraq, and then to Egypt. When the Poles were preparing to sail from Egypt to Italy, a problem arose. The ship would only transport soldiers and supplies. It is said by some that General Anders officially “enlisted” Wojtek into the Polish Army at that time. Corporal Wojtek was listed as a soldier and left for Italy.

In Italy the Poles fought with other Allied countries in the famous Battle of Monte Cassino.  In the fourth battle to capture the Benedictine monastery, the Poles reached the top of the mountain and raised the Polish flag on May 18, 1944.

Among the Polish units at Monte Cassino was the 22nd Transport Company. It was their responsibility to transport and distribute munitions, food, and fuel to the heavy artillery regiments. During the battle, one of the soldiers carrying munition boxes was Corporal Wojtek. Wojtek carrying a shell became the emblem of the company.

85px-The_badge_of_the_22nd_Artillery_Support_Company_of_the_2nd_Polish_Corps

After WWII ended, the Polish II Corps sailed from Italy to Scotland and was demobilized. WWII had ended, but Poland was not an independent, free country again. Many Poles felt they were left homeless and chose not to return to Poland after the war.

But what would become of Corporal Wojtek?

It was decided to send Wojtek to the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. He had a new home, but like the Poles he was not free. There are stories of Poles who visited Wojtek at the zoo, threw him cigarettes which he ate, and proclaimed he still understood Polish. A touching story is told of a man who brought a violin to the zoo and played a Polish mazurka for Wojtek. It is said Wojtek “danced” with the music. Wojtek had the look of a bear but, indeed, had the heart of a Pole.

Wojtek was a popular resident at the Edinburgh Zoo but never again had his freedom or the camaraderie of his Polish friends. Wojtek died at the zoo on December 2, 1963.  He was about 21 years old.

In a newspaper Letters to the Editor section after Wojtek died, a Londoner, Michael George Olizar wrote, “He left his bones, like many other Polish veterans, on British soil.”

 

Wojtek, the soldier bear, is still remembered and celebrated today. His story has been told in books, a BBC documentary, and there are statues and plaques dedicated in his memory around the world.

 

In Memory Of … Flavio Terenzoni

Flavio Terenzoni with Maria Cecchini
Flavio Terenzoni with Maria Cecchini

 

On August 17, 1944, Italian partisans killed 16 German soldiers who had been in the area of San Terenzo, Italy, requisitioning food from the local populace. The Germans ordered civilian reprisals which were carried out by the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division  between August 17 and August 19, 1944.  One hundred and fifty-nine Italian civilian men, women, and children from the San Terenzo Monti, Bardine, and Valla area were killed.*

In 2012 I went on a tour, “World War II in the Mediterranean: The Italian and French Campaigns,” which was sponsored by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.  One of the locales we visited was the San Terenzo area of Tuscany.

At the Historical Museum Massacre of San Terenzo and Bardine, we saw pictures on the wall of many of the victims.  I was drawn to the picture of a baby named Flavio Terenzoni.  His happy, laughing face, before tragedy struck, touched my heart.  Flavio died on August 19, 1944, as did Maria Cecchini, the young woman in the picture with him.  Flavio would have been two years old on August 28, 1944.

While we were at the museum, Italians from the local area joined us and shared the stories of what happened.  They worried that the world would forget about the tragedy that occurred there.

For this story, I chose Flavio Terenzoni to represent all the lives and innocence lost as seen in the “pictures on the wall.”

To the people of San Terenzo, your story has not been forgotten.

 

Another WWII story from this part of Italy:  

The United States (US) 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed mostly of second generation Japanese Americans, fought along the Gothic Line in the area of Colle Musatello, a ridge near San Terenzo.  One of the officers in that unit was Lieutenant Daniel Inouye. He was seriously wounded in the battle for the ridge and lost his right arm.  For his extraordinary heroism on April 21, 1945, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).

 In 1963 Daniel Inouye became a US Senator from Hawaii. 

Senator Inouye’s award of the DSC was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

 

*SS Major Walter Reder of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division was tried for war crimes in an Italian military court in Bologna, Italy, and sentenced to life in prison in 1951. He was released in 1985.

The number of Germans and Italian civilians killed may vary depending on different  accounts of the incident.

 

Great Lakes Shipbuilding in WWII: And the Tale of FP-344

FP-344 In Kewaunee Harbor
FP-344 in Kewaunee Harbor

 

The North American Great Lakes were an area of strategic importance in the United States (US) during WWII. Iron ore needed to be transported to steel making plants along the Great Lakes.  Shipyards on the shores of the Great Lakes built military vessels. Types of ships built were cargo ships, tugboats, submarines, and other vessels.

After ships were launched in the Great Lakes, they made their way down to Chicago (Illinois), transited the Chicago Drainage Canal, traveled through other waterways connecting with the Mississippi River, and sailed south to the Gulf of Mexico where they were placed in service.

The US Coast Guard was assigned duty on the Great Lakes to guard against sabotage and to keep shipping lanes open. Duties included manning lookout stations which monitored shipping lanes, patrolling harbors, and guarding bridges, docks, and ships.  The most powerful “designated” icebreaker of the time, the United States Ship (USS) Mackinaw, kept ice out of shipping channels in winter months.

Kewaunee (Wisconsin) Shipbuilding and Engineering on the shore of Lake Michigan was one of the shipbuilding locations during WWII. The company,  founded in 1941, received a government contract to build military ships. Eighty vessels, cargo ships and tugboats, were built between 1941 and 1946.  The shipyard employed 400 workers. One of the workers was my father, Stanley “Jocko” O’Konski.

It is at Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering that the tale of Freight and Passenger (FP) -344 begins.  FP-344 was a cargo ship, built originally for the US Army,  launched in April 1944, and survived WWII.  By 1967, then a US Navy ship, it was refitted for intelligence gathering and sent to the Pacific.

The US Navy had changed the name of FP-344 to the USS Pueblo.  The ship was captured by North Korea January 23, 1968, and the action is known in history as the Pueblo incident. During the capture of the ship, a sailor, Duane Hodges, was killed.  The remaining 82 crew members were held in North Korea until December 23, 1968, when they were released after US and North Korean negotiations.

The USS Pueblo is still in North Korea. The US Navy has never decommissioned the ship.

 

Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering continues today as Kewaunee Fabrications.

An area of interest, although not addressed in this post, is the history of the US Lighthouse Service.  Founded in 1910, it was merged with the US Coast Guard in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as WWII became imminent. 

Compassion and Remembrance

Holly with Pattie and neighborhood boy Bucky
Holly with Pattie and neighborhood boy, Bucky

 

Holloway “Holly” Sumner’s granddaughter, Pattie, has a warm memory of him welcoming her to his home with outstretched arms, wearing a red Hawaiian shirt, holding a Lucky Strike cigarette between his fingers, and singing to her, “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.” He was very special to her.  She did not know as a little girl how special he was to other people also.

Holly Sumner was a longtime resident of Chula Vista, California. At one time he was Deputy City Marshall, Assistant Fire Chief, and owned the first Ford and Caterpillar dealerships.

In the 1940s Holly owned an insurance business and had clients who were Japanese Americans. When he learned they were going to be relocated to internment camps, Holly went to them with an offer.* If they would sell him their property for $1, he would sell it back to them for $1 when they came back after the war.

WWII ended, and Holly kept his word.  Holloway Sumner died in 1971.

Holly had a son, Walter Holloway Sumner. Walter was a WWII B-17 pilot with the 306th Bomb Group based in Thurleigh, England. He was Pattie’s father.

When Walter died in 1975, Pattie and her family held a memorial service for him.  At a point during the service, Pattie turned around and noticed about eight Japanese Americans among the mourners. She came to find out that they were family members of those Japanese Americans her grandfather had helped during WWII. They attended his son’s memorial service out of a still held respect for the Sumner family. Holly’s compassion in a time of war was long remembered.

 

Story as told to me by Pattie Sumner.  Story and family photograph posted with her permission.

My uncle, Adrian O’Konski, was the navigator on the Walter Sumner crew.

The Holloway Sumner home is designated a historic site by the City of Chula Vista, California.  

* President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order (EO) 9066 on February 19, 1942,  after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The EO, “Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas,” was the basis for the development of civilian internment camps in the US during WWII. Japanese Americans and some civilians of German and Italian descent were relocated to these camps.