Veterans Day with Gratitude

Veterans Day is a day set aside to honor all those who have served the country in war or peace, acknowledging and thanking them for their service. This week for our Wednesdays for Women blog, JDA PMO director Lori Lamprecht honors all veterans by sharing the story of her father’s bravery during World War II. Through his story we get a good sense of the love of country, dedication to purpose and sacrifice of these soldiers. We proudly count more than 68 JDA associates as military veterans and are grateful for their service.

This veteran’s day I wanted to take some time and reflect on how grateful I am to have the father and family that I have.  I wanted to share my father’s story with all of you in appreciation for his wonderful service to this country and my family.

Early Age

My father, devout Catholic of Polish American decent was born in December of 1925.  When he was very young, his parents divorced, and his mother remarried.  During the Great Depression they were very poor and lived in a small house along with several cousins.  My father was a Boy Scout and went to Milwaukee Boys Tech for high school where he began training to become a machinist.   He was also on the school swimming team.  While in high school, World War II broke out.  My father made the decision, with the permission of his mother, to lie about his age and enlist in the military at age 17.  He did this for two primary reasons: his grandmother often cried about their relatives in Poland living under Nazi occupation; and because almost all his classmates had enlisted.  He had a strong sense of country and family and he wanted to serve.

Military Career

My dad enlisted in the Army in April 1943 and was placed in the Infantry.  To this day, he believes he survived the war because, being 5 feet, 5 inches tall, he was a small target.

My dad went through 13 weeks of basic training, had a short furlough and was shipped to Scotland.   He traveled aboard the Queen Mary and learned quickly that he gets extremely sea sick!  They moved from Scotland to the west coast of England where they trained alongside the British solders for beach landings and scaling cliffs.

On June 3, 1944, they boarded the USS Thomas Jefferson troop ship and spent three days in the English Channel waiting for the bad storms to pass.   Once again, he got very sea sick.  On June 6 he boarded a Higgins Boat (landing craft), circled for 45 minutes and then proceeded to land on Dog Red Beach part of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.  He was in the second wave of the D Day invasion.  His landing craft hit a sandbar and he had to wade through the water carrying equipment that weighed more than he did, under very heavy shelling, land mines, machine guns, and barbed wire planted by the German army.  It took two hours to cross the beach using grappling hooks to get to the cliffs 1,000 feet away. Once there, they began the attack on the Germans.  Roughly 4,400 allied troops died during the D Day invasion, of which 1,200 died that day on Omaha Beach.  By the end of that day’s heavy battle, the Germans began to surrender to the U.S. forces.  To my father’s great surprise, among them were Polish solders in German uniforms.  My dad fought for more than 40 days with little break and even less sleep.  They successfully executed Operation Overlord, which ended by capturing Saint-Lo, France.  During this operation, my dad came down with dysentery (common on battlefields where you are continuously surrounded by the dead) and was sent back to England for treatment.

After recovery in England, he was sent back into battle as part of the 75th Division 289th Regiment where his group assisted paratroopers retreated from the battlefield in the Netherlands along the Maas River as part of the failed military operation, Market Garden.  From there they were sent to their next battle at Colmar Pocket along the French, German, and Swiss boarder of the Rhine River.

After Colmar Pocket, they went to Belgium to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western front.  This was their first encounter with the mostly unstoppable German King Tiger Tanks.  The allied forces suffered heavy casualties.  My father pulled his Lieutenant to safety after he was shot.  As their company retreated, my father stayed behind to protect and care for his Lieutenant, hiding in the basement of a German-occupied building.  The Lieutenant died in his arms.  Two days later the Americans returned to the battle scene and found my father, as he suffered severe frostbite and was unable to walk. He was hospitalized for three weeks in a Rear Hospital.  For this heroic act he was awarded the Bronze Star.

His final battle, the Battle of Ruhr Valley, was fought near Ludendorff Bridge along the Rhine River in Ramagen, Germany.   They selected a few strong swimmers, my dad included, to swim across the river and scout the enemy positions.  Separated from the others during the swim he found himself behind enemy lines.  He had to hide until the following night to make the swim back.  The river current was very strong and carried him further downstream to a different U.S. Company position.  Not recognizing him and having the password changed, he was nearly shot by U.S. forces as a German spy.  He was held prisoner until later that day when his company was able to identify him.

The 75th Division suffered over 20,620 men either killed, wounded or missing during the 242 days of battle.

William Pekrul with Five Generations of his family

Post War

While in the military, my father sent his military pay to his mother to help to support the family.  Upon return, he was given release pay which he also gave to his mother.  He continued his education through a machinist apprentice program.   During that time, he purchased a house for his mother.

He met my mom at a local roller-skating rink (that was very popular at the time).  After a few weeks of watching him, my mom got up the courage to ask him to skate with her in ‘Ladies Choice.’  They were married two years later.  My dad built a second floor to his mother’s house and they lived there  for first few years of marriage.  My grandpa gave them a small piece of land in a remote area of New Berlin, Wis..   The nation was dismantling the military build-up and selling off what was not needed. He purchased a military barracks which he tore down and used the lumber to  build his house in New Berlin.  Since it was built, my family grew to 11 children.  My dad built three  additions onto the house during that time.  My parents still live in that house today.

My dad worked as a machinist, then in machine repair and went on to become a master tool maker for General Motors (GM).  He spent time educating himself in the evenings, after work, learning the machine tool skills and the advanced trigonometry needed for the job.  While at GM, much  to his delight, he worked on the NASA Apollo Guidance System and Moon Rover.  He was given awards for process improvement on various GM car parts.  He was passionate about his work and loved being in the middle of all the new technology.  He rarely missed a day of work and taught us all to have a great work ethic.

Retirement

My dad just never stops.  Today he is very active in the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars, the largest and oldest US war veterans service organization.  You will often find him selling poppies at the sports shows, boat shows and  baseball games.  This year, he is the Grand Master at the Milwaukee Veterans Day Parade, to be held on Saturday, November 16 at 9 a.m. CST.

In addition to the VFW, he maintains a tool shop in his house where he builds various custom parts for my brothers and friends.  He often advises the Cad-Cam software vendor on enhancements and participates in their  testing of new releases.  At 93, he keeps his hands in technology.  He has a small computer lab in his house where we go to him for help and advice.  I am often lectured on the importance of running defrag on my laptop!

Our family has grown over the years; my parents now have 22 grandchildren, 32 great grandchildren and one great-great grandson William named after my father.  My parents celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this past May.  As a side note, 12 of those great grand children are my grandchildren and the great-great grandson is my great grandson.

I am fortunate beyond words to be a member of this great and loving family.  My dad has always lived by the code, his church, family and community.  My parents have been the example to all of us as the ‘Great American Dream.’