"The Greatest Generation" Part II

JULY 1999 - 
Our Members Made It The Greatest! - Without Complaint They Served
Their Country In War And Returned To Serve Their Government At Home
.  A March article on Frank Scordino,
which was our version of Tom Brokaw's bestseller "The Greatest
Generation," has evoked the memories of several members who were of
that generation:

Meet Gene Walczewski

In March of 1941, Gene Walczewski, age 18 of Chelsea, joined the Army for supposedly a one-year enlistment.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Walczewski, along with 3,000
other troops, shipped out of New York on a converted tramp steamer
bound for Australia.

"We
went through the Panama Canal and it took us forty days to reach
Australia. It was pure hell," Walczewski recalled. "Those were the days
of segregation. The black troops were in the bow section and we were in
the stern. We had very limited rations and most of us were sick the
entire trip."

Walczewski's next
stop was Guadalcanal where his outfit, the Americal Division, which had
the Mass. state seal on its flag, relieved battle-weary Marines. "It
was not like the movie Thin Red Line (Academy Award nominated
Guadalcanal Film). We had dysentery, fungus and just about every
disease you can think of, plus the Japs."

Nailed by Sniper

"After
Guadalcanal, it was Bougainville in the Solomon Islands and then on to
the Philippines where we liberated Leyte. We were fighting on Cebu, an
island in the Philippines, when I got hit. A sniper nailed me in the
back of my neck and the bullet went out through the side of my face."

Walczewski
was taken to a field medical unit in Leyte where his wounds healed and
he received his Purple Heart. But his reprieve was brief. Anyone who
could walk was expected to fight. He was soon back with his unit,
Company K of the 182nd Infantry Regiment, where he fought in the
Pacific until, weak from malaria, he was shipped home and discharged in
1945.

Through an Army buddy's
sister, he met Clara Strazdas who was working at Sears Roebuck in
Brookline. Shortly after, Clara became Clara Walczewski in a marriage
that is now 52 years old and has produced three daughters and three
grandchildren.

Gene's first
post-war job was as a coal shoveler in the boiler room of the Chelsea
Soldiers' Home for twenty dollars a week. As it turned out, he never
left the Soldiers' Home.

Like many
returning GIs, Gene had a strong work ethic. He attended the Peterson
School of Engineering evenings and weekends, ultimately earning a
first-class fireman's license and also an engineering license.

During
his thirty-eight-year career at the Soldiers' Home, he worked with
"many fine people." He recalled first working under then Commandant
Lawrence Quigley and later his son John Quigley. "John is retired...I
believe he now lives in Osterville," said Walczewski. "I know he
attends our Association meetings in Hyannis."

Other
than serving his country in World War II, Gene has spent his whole life
in Chelsea and says he will one day die in Chelsea. "It's my town. Our
house on Jefferson Avenue cost $16,000...It's almost in the shadow of
the Tobin Bridge. We've had a good life and Chelsea and the Soldiers'
Home have been central to our life. There's no reason to ever leave."

Although
Gene never mentioned his Bronze Star, we will. His wife leaked it to us
during a visit. The citation read in part "...for exemplary courage in
the line of duty...carrying a wounded soldier to a safe position while
fully exposing himself to heavy fire from a Japanese machine gun
bunker..."

Gene Walczewski: A member of the "Greatest Generation.

 


Meet Jim Kelley

On
December 7, 1941 Jim Kelley, 21, a Quincy native, was working for the
City of Quincy Engineering Department. Within weeks he joined the Army.

After
basic training, and further training in England, Kelly landed in France
in 1944 with the 271st Combat Engineers of the 71st Infantry Division.

In
Europe, the Engineers had the task of constructing pontoon bridges
across rivers such as the Rhine and Danube. When the Germans retreated
they blew up most of the bridges that hadn't already been destroyed by
our bombs. The Engineers also had other responsibilities - some quite
hazardous.

"We cleared minefields,"
Kelley pointed out. "It wasn't an exact science-there were a number of
casual-ties,but someone had to do it. We not only had to clear the
mines for the safety of our own troops but to protect civilians who
lived in the area...children.

"We
were targets for German snipers and the random shelling by retreating
artillery units. The one time I had the opportunity to fire back at
staffing German aircraft, my 50-caliber machine gun jammed."

Kelley,
who is now chairman of the Quincy Planning Board, best recalls the day
when his engineering unit liberated a German concentration camp.

"The
inhumanity of man to his fellow man had only been a phrase to me, but
it really came to life when we saw conditions at the concentration camp
at Straubing," he said. "It was unbelievable."

Although
Jim Kelley came through the war unscathed, his family received the news
that all parents dread. "My younger brother Frannie was killed in
action 15 days before the Allies entered Paris. When I received the
news I was devastated," said Jim "I knew how tough it was for my
parents back home. I worried more about them than I did for myself, but
like other families we lived with our loss and got on with life,
knowing that Frannie was with God."

Delayed Return, Fiancee Waits

When
Germany surrendered most of our troops were rotated home in 1945. But
Kelley, who would have been eligible to go home, had to wait. "I
received a field commission to second lieutenant and since our men were
under a point system which determined when they would leave, by
accepting a commission I had to start from the bottom of the officers'
rotation list."

Meanwhile the love
of his life, Mary Kelly of Jamaica Plain, was waiting. "We made wedding
plans by mail said Jim Kelley. I finally arrived home in May 1946 and
we were married on June 17 at the Blessed Sacrament Church in JP, A
Kelly marrying a Kelley."

The
Kelley's settled in Quincy where Jim returned to his old job. They
bought a house "for about $10,000 on a four percent GI loan" and
started a family which grew to four children and 12 grandchildren.

In
1948 Jim became a state employee - an engineer with the D.P.W. He said
that his most rewarding duties came during his last 16 years - 3 years
as a State Planning Engineer, 9 years as State Maintenance Engineer and
4 years as Deputy Chief Engineer before retiring in 1977.

"Before
moving up through the ranks I served two terms as president of AFSCME
Local 780 (State Engineers), since replaced by an organization called
MOSES. There were and are some outstanding people in state service.
There was always a sense of accomplishment...I feel honored to have
been a public employee."

The honor is ours, Jim, a member of the "Greatest Generation."


 Meet Frank Tracy

Frank
Tracy was a Junior in Lynn Classical High when the U.S. entered World
II. He wanted to enlist immediately, however his family said no. But
the day after graduation in 1943, he was off to Ft. Bragg for training
with the Army.

After further training in Scotland, Tracy landed in France with the 28th Keystone Division shortly after D Day.

As
an artillery man, Tracy was engaged in a fierce battle with German
artillery when he went down with shrapnel wounds. "It was November of
1944 and we were in Luxembourg near the German border. The Germans were
zeroed in on our artillery and we were zeroed on theirs. We took a
direct hit with an 88 howitzer. Several of our men were killed...I was
hit in the leg and knocked into a foxhole."

Tracy
was taken to the rear for medical treatment where he was given a month
to recover. But the war was not over for the Lynn GI. He had no sooner
returned to his outfit, C battery, when the Germans unleashed a
counter-offensive on December 16 - The Battle of the Bulge.

"We
were completely overrun and pushed all the way back to the border of
Luxembourg and France" Tracy said. "I became separated from my unit and
spent several nights sleeping in barns or sheds with the other GIs who
were also on their own. We had no food, the weather was near zero...I
suffered a lot more under those conditions than when I was actually
hit. I saw many frozen bodies of American soldiers..."

Eventually,
Tracy found his way to an American infantry company ("It was night and
they almost shot me.") and was later reunited with his artillery unit
in time to march into Paris.

"When
Paris was liberated, it was decided that a French armored division
would have the honor of first marching to the Eiffel Tower, but somehow
the 28th Keystone Division was chosen to be the first Americans. It was
really a great thrill."

Returns to Lynn

After
being sent home and discharged in 1945, Frank, like many other
returning Lynn GIs, found work in Lynn's huge General Electric Plant.
He also married Barbara Rex and started a family which grew to three
children and four grandchildren.

After
two years at G.E., he was accepted by the Lynn Police Department and
went on to spend "39 wonderful years" as a police officer.

"I'm
proud of three things," he said. "I'm proud that I was able to
honorably serve my country in battle; I'm proud of my loving family;
and I'm proud that I was able to have a long and productive career as a
Lynn police officer where I was able to meet so many wonderful people,
both as members of the force and as residents of Lynn."

And we're proud of you, Frank, a member of the Greatest Generation.

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