Uncles At War: A Veterans Day Remembrance
They weren’t even uncles when they went to fight in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, three of my mother’s four brothers–Stan, Joe, and John. When I was born, in 1947, the war had been over for a mere two years. In all that time, I never recall having a single conversation about the Second World War with my uncles. I don’t ever remember asking them to talk about it.
When Uncle Stanley Misiuk died in 1999, among his possessions was a Purple Heart, an award given by the military to brave soldiers “for wounds received in action against the enemy.” Uncle Stan had in fact been wounded twice and sent back to the front both times. He was involved in the invasion of Italy. He carried shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life, but he was never bitter. He spent the rest of his life in an upbeat mood, laughing, joking, and smiling. I know these things about him only because his sister, my Aunt Mary, told me about how he was flown into Willow Run airport outside Detroit and then taken to a hospital in Battle Creek, where the family visited him.
Uncle Joseph Brodacki was a different story. “He came back a changed man,” my mother told me. And he never talked about it either. He served in the Philippines and sent home photographs of what looks like preparation for engagement with the Japanese. Under American rule at the time, the Philippines was attacked by Japan on December 8, 1941, nine hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The combined American-Filipino army was defeated in the Battle of Corregidor by April 1942, but guerrilla resistance against the Japanese continued throughout the war. I learned none of this from my Uncle Joe.
Uncle John Brodacki, Joe’s twin brother, had it easier than Joe or Stan, according to my mother and Aunt Mary (“Thank God”), because he was shipped to the European theater as it became clear that the Germans were losing the war. Uncle John never spoke to me about his war experience, but when I was old enough to fit into it, he gave me a wool army shirt that he had worn when he was in the service. He was my Godfather and always in a cheery mood, smiling and laughing.
All of “the boys” who went overseas were fussed over by their sisters, especially Aunt Mary, who was unmarried and wrote letters to my uncles because their mother, my grandmother, could not write in English and her sons could not read Polish. Uncle Stan’s children still have those letters, and what strikes me most now when I read them is how the boys really were boys, hungry for the trivial details of daily life.
On this Veterans Day, 2015, in memory of my beloved and brave uncles, I post a few of the photographs from the Brodacki family photo album.