In honor of my father — Charles Paska

By Susan Manzke

I shared this account in my column in 2015. I’m sharing it again here today.           

I bought a stereo that will take phonograph records or cassette tapes and transfer them to an audio CD. The main reason for this purchase was to take a recording of my late father, made in March 1991, and digitize it to share with family. The crazy thing was I couldn’t find the saved cassette.

            Frantically I searched the house and all the drawers where I thought it could be. Tears filled my eyes when I thought it was gone forever. My last resort was to ask my sainted mother for help. She’s my patron saint of lost items because she was always losing things. The moment I finished my prayer to Mom I turned over a piece of paper and there was the cassette.

            Since April 10th is my father’s birthday (Mom’s is April 19th), I’d like to share one of his WWII stories. The cassette recording was made because our daughter Rachel had a school assignment to ask relatives about the past. Rachel was eight years old at the time.

            Rachel began her interview: “So Grandpa how was it in the Civil War?” I laughed so hard I was asked to leave the room. Eventually, Rachel asked about WWII. Here’s some of what my father told her.

            “I was in the infantry. . . . They were the guys with the rifles. After the airplanes and tanks went in and bombed, we were the ones who went in after and cleaned out the enemy, house by house.” (Dad turned twenty years old while on the battle field.)

            It took some encouragement to get my dad to talk about earning the Bronze star. Finally he said, “I got the Bronze star for winching a whole battalion across a river that was under direct enemy fire. . . . There really isn’t much to tell, except Thumper, he was my assistant driver, he would take the cable and hook it up to a Jeep across the river. I didn’t even try winching it because the winch was too slow (here Dad made a sound of a slow winch). If we used it the Germans would have blown us up into a hundred little pieces.

            “These were mostly Jeeps from H Company, so it wasn’t hard to pull them across. I had a ton and a half. Thumper would pull the winch across and I put it in reverse and go like hell backwards because the winch was in front.

            “We got everybody across and when we were getting toward the end, a shell hit right near my truck. It blew me out of the truck. It blew off the spare tire that was right next to me in the truck. I landed on my back in the water on a rock. I got up and jumped back in the Jeep and away we went again, Thumper and I finished pulling the last one across. The Colonel said, “That was fine work, fine work. I want to get your name. Later, the First Sargent got my name and I got the Bronze Star for that. (Wikipedia: The Bronze Star was awarded for acts of heroism, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.)

            “And then we got the Presidential Citation, too. That’s from the president of the United States. That was for letting the German tanks run over us in foxholes and when the tanks were past us we got up out of our foxholes and killed off the German infantry following the tanks. The tanks didn’t like to ride any place without armored infantry because then you could jump up on the tank and throw a hand grenade down the smokestack . . .” (Wikipedia: the Presidential Unit Citation was for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.)

            After that story Dad tired of talking and ended the recording. Two months later he died of pancreatic cancer. Our family continues to be proud of him and now his great-grandchildren have a recording to keep forever.

Charles (Charlie) Paska in the army.

Copyright © 2020 by Susan Manzke, all rights reserve