July 15 • 09:08 PM

'Yanks a Million' for WWII service

November 05, 2008
Editor's note: The following is part one of a two part series written by guest columnist Pamela J. Holihan. She has lived in the Tri-City area since 1971 and currently resides in Attica with her husband Rob Holihan. The Holihans are involved in volunteering for the Boy Scouts of America, their church, and working with the elderly, developmentally impaired and addressing elder care issues.

There is a hero in our midst and I would like to share his story.

Please meet Walter Maczuga of Imlay City. PFC Maczuga gave his youth, and his health, barely escaping with his life during World War II. He withstood enemy fire, and felt the sting of shrapnel to protect the ideals of our country. He fought for your rights and mine. He is a veteran, and in my mind, a hero as well as a living legend.

Walter is one of few living World War II veterans. If you know Walter or someone like him, please say "Thank you" before it is too late.

To Walter and the other veterans reading this article, young or old, male or female, "Thank you for your service to the United States of America."

Walter Maczuga (right) and his friend ‘Red.’
If you saw the movie 'Saving Private Ryan,' you will remember how difficult it was to watch the scenes in the first 28 minutes of intense, prolonged, and realistically graphic sequences of war violence. PFC Walter Maczuga lived it after beginning service in February 1943.

He landed on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944, as a radio operator replacement from the 28th Division. Omaha Beach was the code name for one of the principal landing points of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy Landings beginning June 6, 1944. Almost nothing went as planned at Omaha.

Maczuga's infantry unit along with supporting arms began landing in the second wave. Supporting arms began to arrive and experienced the same chaos and destruction as the first companies. Perhaps even worse, swimming or wading through the water, they had to dodge casualties and debris from the previous day.

Combat engineers tasked with clearing the exits and marking beaches had landed without their equipment and off target. The half-tracks, jeeps and trucks that did not founder in deep water became jammed up on the narrowing beach, and became easy marks for German defenders. Losing the majority of radios made the task of organizing the scattered and dispirited troops even more difficult.

The command groups that did make the shore were limited in their effect to those in immediate proximity. Except for a few surviving tanks and heavy weapons squads here or there, the assault troops had only their personal weapons, which invariably required cleaning first after having been dragged through water, mud and sand.

The survivors, many of whom were first time combat soldiers, were relatively well protected from small arms fire, but were still exposed to artillery and mortars. To their front lay exposed and mined flats, and the bluffs above were still active with enemy fire. Morale was a problem. Many units had lost their leaders and were acutely aware of the fate of men lost attempting to land at Omaha Beach before, during and after them. Wounded men out on the beach were drowning as the tide came in, and out to sea landing craft were being pounded and set ablaze.

PFC Maczuga and many of his 28th Division prevailed. The Germans called their unit "The Bloody Bucket Brigade" because of their fierce fighting and determination. The 28th Division held off at all costs until help arrived.

From Omaha Beach he went to Saint-Lô, France, where the German army had occupied the town since 1940. Maczuga describes the battle there as being from hedgerow to hedgerow. In August of 1944 Maczuga was wounded and sent to England to have shrapnel fragments removed from his right arm. This injury earned his first Purple Heart award. During the Battle of Normandy in Saint-Lô, the city was about 95% destroyed.

When Maczuga was wounded, his bride received a telegram to say "he had been slightly wounded." She received no further communication from the Army. His whole family was worried sick! It was nearly a month before he was able to get news to his wife that he had recovered and was returning to the war zone.

PFC Maczuga, going back to war after his injury, helped liberate Paris, France. His group was chosen to march through the Arch de Triumph with Charles deGaulle in front of them. What an honor!

After the parade, there was no time for glory, just get back into combat. He was responsible for helping to liberate Luxembourg, then Belgium (the Battle of Bastogne), and the Huertgen Forest (The Battle of the Bulge).

Maczuga's regiment was five miles back in another section of difficult terrain, fighting their way toward the remainder of the 28th Division, which was almost wiped out. They had been wounded, died, or taken as prisoners of war. There he received minor injuries and a second Purple Heart.

At that point, he was relieved of combat duty. Being a great musician, and having played saxophone in a band, he was chosen to be part of General Eisenhower's "Ground Forces Reinforce-ment Command." That is a military term for a traveling show band and entertainment troupe which was called "Yanks a Million." With Yanks a Million Maczuga traveled around Europe including Paris, Luxembourg, and Belgium. He even did a show in Rome, Italy. This assignment brought more joy and less danger.

In the fall of 1945 he received orders to ship back to the United States. He was Honorably Discharged in Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania in November of 1945, and was able to return to his loving family.

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