Pfc Frank A. Plebanek US Army (1943-1945)
Read the service reflections of US Soldier
Pfc Frank A. Plebanek
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WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
Having just turned 18 years of age I knew I was eligible to be drafted, but didn’t know when that time would come. My buddy and I went to the Naval Recruiting office and told them we would
like to become pilots on an aircraft carrier. He arranged for us to go to Kansas City, MO for testing and physicals on Dec 31, 1942 and Jan. 1, 1943. We both passed the tests and physicals and were told to return home and that we would receive a letter within 30 days to report to Pensacola, Florida for induction into the US Navy.
We did receive a letter about three weeks later that informed us that enlistments for 18 year olds had been canceled and we could wait to be drafted and then transfer into Naval Aviation. We didn’t like that idea, so went to the Army Air Corp and then the US Marines and they told us the same thing. We had both quit our jobs and decided to go to the local draft board and tell them we wanted to enlist and would like to go out on the next draft call from our city.
We were told to report for induction on Mar 19, 1943.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I volunteered to be drafted March 1943. Trained with 78th Lightning Division, in D Co of 309th Regiment. I was trained in Use and Tactics of Heavy Water Cooled 30. Cal. Machine Gun.
I was sent as POR to England and Joined the 82nd Airborne Division about ten days before D-Day. I was being held as Reserve Status and assigned to 325th Glider Regiment. I was placed in E Co. in a Mortar Squad when the Unit was returned from combat in July of 1944.
I participated in Operation Market Garden as Second Gunner on 60mm Mortars. I was wounded on Oct 1, 1944 near Mook, Holland and sent to England to recuperate.
I was then returned to duty in Feb 1945 to rejoin my Unit which was near Schmidthof, Germany. I was assigned as a Gunner on a 30 Cal. Light Machine Gun.
While holding the West Bank of the Rhine river in Cologne, the CO said needed a jeep driver so I became his driver until the hostilities ceased in May of 1945.
We then were sent to Berlin, Germany for Occupational Duty until Nov of 1945, when I had acquired enough points to be able to return to the States to be demobilized on Dec 23, 1945, returning to my family about 6:30 p.m on Christmas Eve!
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
We landed by glider in Holland and spent 8 days on the Front Line. I came so close to being killed so many times.
A German soldier had my head in his sights when he fired his rifle. If his aim would have been 2 inches higher he would have shot me right between the eyes. The bullet landed in the dirt, right in front of my nose and about 2 inches below the top of the dirt around my foxhole. The dirt the bullet kicked up filled my eyes and I was unable to see anything for over an hour, while I tried to clean the dirt from my eyes, with water from my canteen.
While trying to awaken a man to relieve me on guard duty one night, a sniper tried to shoot me while I was looking for the man in his hole. He must have fired three or four times at me until the firing woke another solier who fired back at the sniper. I believe the sniper was in the attic of the nearby farmhouse. He was just firing at the sounds I was making. I believe he was the same sniper that killed Verl Miller earlier that afternoon.
On a later occasion, as I looked around the corner of a fireplace protruding from the rear of a house, a German stood there with a flame thrower about 25 feet from me. He immediately fired the flame thrower and as the ball of flame was coming toward me, I dodged around the corner of the house and dove into an empty foxhole.
One of our Sergeants, along with five other men and I were trying to recover the mortar we had lost the day before, when we’d been attacked and didn’t have time to bring it with us. We were proceeding in single file as we were walking along the dirt road and the man (Closen), directly in front of me, was hit with machine pistol fire from a German gunner. Closen was riddled across his lower chest and fell forward to the ground and squirmed his way into the hedgerow trying to take more cover. He only got about half way into the hedges when he stopped, lying perfectly still. We all knew that he was killed in action. He had been through Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normandy without being injured and it seemed such a shame that he had to die in Holland.
Late afternoon on the third day, while Payne and I were in our foxhole, the Germans made a small counter-attack with a half-track and a few troops following it. We heard it coming, but couldn’t see it, and when it came into view, the gunner on top, with a machine gun, opened fire at Payne and I. We dropped to the bottom of our foxhole, without being hit. The gunner kept us pinned down, until some of our troops fired a bazooka round at it. It was hit in the radiator and backed away toward their own lines. When all the firing stopped we raised up out of our hole and found that all the dirt around our foxhole had been scooped away by the machine gunners bullets.
Another day, while it was raining, I tried to have a cigarette, but couldn’t keep it lit. I decided to go into a small shed about 30 yards away. As I entered the shed I found it dry inside, so sat down and had a cigarette and candy bar. It wasn’t long before a few guys decided to join me in theshed for a smoke. When the fifth man arrived, I thought to myself, ‘this is not good, too many people in one spot. I explained this to the men in the shed. When the sixth man arrived, I decided to leave and mentioned that they should too. Then four of them left and there was only one man in the shed. The Germans had spotted all the men gathering at the shed and probably had it zeroed in for their mortars. Before the last man left, a mortar round landed about five feet from the shed and blew it all apart. They then placed machine gun fire on the spot where the shed had been. The last man didn’t make it out and was killed.
On another occasion, I was digging a foxhole and had it about knee deep, when I noticed some leaves move near my hole while I was standing in it. I immediately dropped into the hole as a mortar shell exploded not two feet from me. I wasn’t wounded as all the fragments went over me. I couldn’t hear anything for about two hours, until my hearing returned from the concussion of the blast.
After we lost the mortar I was assigned to be first gunner on a light machine gun. One time, a German machine gunner was returning my fire but he couldn’t lower his fire enough to hit me. I was concentrating on firing my own weapon and didn’t realize how close I’d come to being hit until I discovered the severed leaves he’d shot from the trees about six inches above my head.
I was really ticked off at the Germans for shelling our bivouac area. Our Company was pulled off the line to go to the rear to get some R & R for two days. My Buddy and I dug a slit trench to sleep in or take cover if we were shelled. We covered it with logs and dirt because it was raining. We’d left just enough room to get into and out of the hole. While we slept, at about 10:30 p.m. we were shelled and an artillery shell exploded in the tree just above us and the entire top of the tree trapped us in the slit trench. We were both wounded in the lower legs and were trapped inside until the medics could remove the tree and help us from the slit trench. It just didn’t seem right that I was wounded while in a two foot deep slit trench, below ground level and protected by dirt and logs over 2/3rds of the hole. Of course if it hadn’t been for the logs and dirt over our bodies, we both may both have been killed. We were taken by ambulance to a field hospital in Nijmegen in the morning. Then the next day to a hospital in Brussels. The next day I was airlifted back to England in a C-47 ambulance plane. After being airlifted back to England, I spent about four months in the hospital before being returned to my Unit, which had already moved into Germany near Aachen.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Berlin, Germany, the 82nd Airborne Division was assigned as occupational duty forces, after the German forces surrendered. It was nice to know we wouldn’t have to do any more fighting on this side of the world. We didn’t know if we would be sent to help the Pacific forces invade Japan. Seeing Berlin almost completely demolished from the bombing and shelling, was an awesome sight. Being the CO’s jeep driver we had to travel in the British and French zones. Trying to get around we sometimes had to travel 3 or 4 miles to find routes to get to where we wanted to go that was only a mile away. Our Company was quartered in Mariendorf, which is a small section of the southern area of Berlin. We were due south from the Brandenberg Gate and the Templehof Airport. Spandau was west of downtown Berlin.
A group of about 10 from our company, a Lieutenant, myself and 8 others were assigned to assist the British, in Spandau, to help get all the DP’s (Displaced Persons) and German Soldiers back to their home locations. This took about six weeks before all the holding pens were emptied. I met many British soldiers and German girls (typists) while doing the sorting of thousands of German soldiers and civilians.
I think we spent more time in Berlin than any of the places we were stationed and while in combat. We were constantly moving from one place to another through England, Holland, France, Belgium and Germany. Seemed we were constantly going back and forth from France to Germany.
As troops were being sent back to the US to be demobilized, we were given points to accumulate, the men with the highest number of points were being sent home first. My number group was called about the middle of November and we left Berlin, returned to France and left Marseille to go through the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar and on to New York.
So to me, my whole oversees adventure was to leave Boston, land in England, go to Holland, go to Belgium, return to England (in hospital), back to France, then to Germany, back to France, back to Germany, back to France, back to Germany, back to France, then leave France to go by ship to New York. I was able to visit all the Capitals, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
I was in the hospital near Whitney, England when I learned that my Unit was called to duty to help halt the German counter-attack in Dec. 1944 at the Huertgen Forest. I regretted that I was not able to be with my Unit when it really needed the most able bodied men. They had advanced on into Germany by the time I was able to return to duty.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I was awarded the Bronze Star for service during the Rhineland Campaign in Feb. 1944. I was unaware that I’d received the medal until Sept 1963.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
Earned the following Medals and awards:
European,African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one invasion spear- head and four campaign stars
Army of Occupation WW II Medal
Presidential Unit Citation Badge
Combat Infantryman Badge
American Campaign Medal
Victory WW II Medal
Good Conduct Medal
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart Medal
French Fouragere Lanyard
Belgian Fouragere Lanyard
Netherlands Orange Lanyard
All equally important to me.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
While training in the States with the 78th Div, I had training on driving and maintaining motor vehicles. I had no idea that I would eventually become a driver.
Later I was with E Company, of the 325 Glider Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. When the Company Commander needed a driver they looked through the records of all the company personnel and found that I had been qualified as a driver. We were in Cologne, Germany, holding the west bank of the Rhine, while they were clearing out the Ruhr Pocket which they had encircled on the east bank. My CO asked me if I would like to be relieved from being a gunner on the 30. Cal Light Machine gun and become his regular Jeep Driver. Without too much consideration, I agreed and continued as his driver until I was sent home on points.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
On the eve of my 21st. birthday we had a Company party while we were occupying Berlin. I was the CO’s jeep driver at the time. I went to the Company party with intentions of drinking enough until I passed out. After we had dinner I took 7 double shots of Cognac, a wine glass full of Gin, a bottle of Champagne and 3 and a half glasses of beer. All this in about a 4 hour period.
My buddy Tom Graves from Service Company hauled me up three flights of stairs and put me to bed. I was supposed to take the CO to Regimental HQ at 9AM. I never got up after three times being awakened and told to go get my jeep. They had someone bring the jeep to the Company area and finally got me up so I could drive him to HQ.
The Captain got in the jeep and asked me if I thought I could make it. I told him I thought I could. When we got to the corner and I had to make a right turn, I almost fell out of the jeep. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back. When I had to make a left turn I fell over into his lap and he helped me straighten out again. We made it to HQ and I stayed in the jeep and slept until he came out about two hours later.
I felt much better after getting more sleep, and we made it back to our Company area with no further incidents. He then told me to get my Assistant Driver to take over the driving duties until the next day. I was lucky not to have been written up. It was certainly a milestone birthday to remember.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I was a Automobile Service Station Manager for about 20 years. I then operated my own Service Station for 5 years. I finally gave up my lease during the first gas shortage because the government was telling me how much gas I could sell and how much money I could make. It all became too much because I had to cut my operating hours and couldn’t make enough money to support my family.
I then went to work for another dealer for about five years as an Auto Mechanic. Then gave that up and started working at General Dynamics as a Maintenance Mechanic, then transferred to Machine Tool Rebuilder.
After 12 and a half years I retired from there in Jan 1990. Still retired after 21 years.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
82nd Airborne Division Association
325 th Glider Infantry Association
American Airborne Association
Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Disabled American Veterans
Combat Infantryman’s Association
Derived no specific benefits from any of them.
Went to reunions of the 325th and the 82nd.
I am mentioned in the following three books:
‘LET’S GO’ by Wayne Pierce 1997- The story of the men of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment.
‘GLIDE TO GLORY’ by Jerry Richlak, Sr.-Unedited personal stories of Airborne Glidermen of WWII.
‘ALL AMERICAN ALL THE WAY’ By Phil Nordyke-The Combat History of The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Personally experiencing the daily life of a Soldier gave me a greater base of knowledge of how to deal with problems, organize and determine what’s truly important. I developed the realization that I had to rely on my own resourcefulness to succeed. I had to literally grow up in the trenches.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Stay with the rules and behave. Do your job.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I have found lost friends after 50 years. It’s another vehicle to document history of service.