Luck and a Prayer!

#52ancestors Week 11 Theme: Luck

This story is about Charles “Carl” Pawlak, my husband’s father and a very dear father-in-law to me! Carl had joined the Wisconsin National Guard at age 18 just like all his brothers had done but he went further and decided to enlist in the regular army. It was June 16, 1941 and Carl was officially in the service. His parents didn’t want him to go because, after all, he was the youngest son, but he was 25 and made his own decisions.

Carl went from Fort Sheridan, Illinois to Camp Polk, Louisiana (he always called in Lousy-anna after that) and then to tank training in the Mojave Desert. Mountain training then followed in Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. Here is where he met Elizabeth Lubinsky, the love of his life, but that will be another story! On September 5, 1943, he was put on a ship bound for England and endured nine months of training over Britain’s Salibury Plains. Clearly, he was being prepared for the invasion of Europe.

Carl survived D-Day plus one on Normandy Beach in June of 1944. He was in the Third Armored Division, a tank division, and served as reconnaissance NCO under the command of Gen. Maurice Rose. Some of the battles and campaigns he was in included Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe and the Battle of the Bulge.

Elizabeth corresponded with Carl and they wrote almost daily. She saved all his letters and passed them on to their sons. Carl’s handwriting was very neat and legible and his spelling was excellent. Many letters were sent by V-mail or air mail across the Atlantic. V-mail is short for “Victory Mail” which was a hybrid mail process used in WWII as “the primary and secure method to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad. To reduce the logistics of transferring an original letter across the military postal system, a V-mail letter would be censored, copied to film, and printed back to paper upon arrival at its destination.” Correspondence was on small letter sheets (7″x 9 1/8″) would be reduced to thumbnail size for transport and later blown up and printed.

It was a copy of one of these V-mail letters that caught my attention. The postmark was April 15, 1945.

So far Carl had been through a lot of battles and harsh circumstances too numerous to expound on here, but he considered himself lucky to have survived as many of his friends and comrades didn’t. Then came the day his luck ran out and the “law of averages caught up “with him. It was Easter morning in Patterborn, Germany on March 31, 1945 and he was hit and spun around by a German bullet. The medics quickly sewed up his hip and side in the field leaving part of his field jacket and belt in the wound in their haste. Many more were wounded and all needed attention! I guess he felt lucky to survive the injury but he would not make it home unscathed.

What impressed me was how he made “light” of the injury in his letter to Elizabeth and tried not to worry her. But it was much more serious than he let on. He was sent to a hospital in France and when they opened him up, he had developed gangrene in his wound and the surgeon had to scrape his hip down to the bone. The army was worried Carl wouldn’t make it. Penicillin therapy and debridement (removal of foreign matter) was the course of treatment. In September of 1945, Carl was back in the states and discharged from the army on October 5, 1945. He had served two years and three months of Continental Service and two years and 17 days of foreign service.

Carl was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, EAME Theatre Ribbon with 1 Silver Battle Star, four Overseas Service Stars, one Service Stripe, Bronze Battle Star and the American Defense Service Ribbon. The whole family is proud and honored by his service and sacrifices for our country. How did he survive? Many times Carl said that surviving the war required “luck and a prayer!”

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