I know Memorial Day is to honor those who lost their lives in service to our country. My Daddy was a veteran, a medic in WWII, but he (fortunately for my family) did not lose his life in the war. Though he did not die for his country, as a medic he served it obediently and respectfully and cared for the wounds and remains of those who did pay a higher price. So regardless, I honor him on Memorial Day, especially since his birthday is May 31st and I’m thinking of him in the last days of May anyway.
Way back in 2001 or so my brother, Julius, came to me with a story he had written about Daddy. Daddy never talked much about his war years. Actually, Daddy never talked at all about his war years, at least not to us. All I ever knew growing up was that Daddy was in the war, he was in the Army, he was a medic, and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. That’s why when he opened up to Julius about something that happened to him during the war, Julius listened well and wrote it down for posterity’s sake.
Julius brought the story to me and asked me to help him with it, iron it out etc. He wanted to submit it to The Checkerboard, a newspaper Daddy subscribed to dedicated to the men of the 99th Infantry Division, the division Daddy was part of during WWII.
I read the story and tweaked it here and there, but the writing is essentially all Julius. He wanted to submit it under both our names since I helped out. The paper accepted the article and printed it but mistakenly left Julius’s name out entirely, so it looked like it was all mine. I take credit where credit is due, but I certainly do not take credit where credit is not mine.
So here is Julius’s story, originally published in The Checkerboard First Issue of 2001, mailed April 18, 2001.
Even during the most horrific time of war it is possible to look past the enemy and see the human inside the uniform.
Our dad, Louis Csaszar, Sr., served in the U.S. Army in WWII during the time of the Battle of the Bulge. He has always been reluctant to talk about his war days, and when he does he downplays his experiences. He did, however, recount one event, which to us, shed a little light on his days in the war, and proved that acts of kindness and human compassion can occur even under a dark cloud of bullets and bombs.
Louis was a medical technician in the 324th Medical Battalion which was part of the famed 99th Infantry Division. The 99th was called upon to repulse the last massive and nearly successful offensive by the German war machine, the Battle of the Bulge. It was during this battle that his unit aided many wounded soldiers including German POWs.
While giving first aid to a wounded German POW Louis noticed the soldier was wearing a beautiful gold wristwatch. Apparently very valuable, it was probably a famly heirloom passed down to him, or a going-away gift given to him by a loved one before he went to war.
This was the sort of thing that would have made a very nice war souvenir for an American serviceman. The act of picking the pockets of dead enemy soldiers and POWs was not uncommon. “To the victors belong the spoils,” so said Andrew Jackson. It would have been very easy for Louis to take the watch for himself, but instead, he felt sympathy for the man he was bandaging. This was a man wounded in battle. He knew the wounded POW was in serious risk of losing the watch so he took action to protect his precious possession.
In an attempt to help the man from being robbed, Louis took the watch off the man’s wrist and wrapped it securely under the layers of bandages just above the soldier’s elbow. It looked just like the other bandaged wounds on the German soldier.
There it would remain safe until he was transported to a rear area hospital where he stood a good chance of keeping all his personal belongings until he was repatriated after the war. Maybe this way he would be able to keep his heirloom watch.
Our dad hated the Nazi regime and all of the murder and destruction it afflicted on the world. However, he did not hate the individual German.
To him, a wounded man was a wounded man, and deserved humane treatment despite his political affiliation. He could have very well been one of Louis’s other brothers fighting the war on different battlefields. Our father would have aided any soldier, Allied or Axis, even if were only to help someone hold onto his personal treasure.
More than 50 years have now passed since the war and there is really no way to know whatever happened to that German soldier. Did he realize what our father had done for him? Perhaps so.
Perhaps he carried this one little selfless act on the part of one American medic in his heart for the rest of his life. Perhaps he shared this kindness to someone else along the way.
Maybe he, too, shared this story with his children one day, late in life, when he felt the need to shed a little light on this most personal of experiences.
*I would like to thank my brother, John, for sharing the picture of Daddy (above).*