November 07, 2007
Remembering Those Who Served: Southampton Vet Remembers
It has been over 60 years since Southampton resident Peter Tureski, 84, served his country as a member of the United States Army in the 5th infantry division. But when he speaks of his wartime experiences, the memories that tumble from his lips are as real and vivid as if they took place moments before.
| (click for larger version)|
Tureski, who fought in the Battle of Normandy as a gunner, lived through scenes of carnage and defining moments that shaped his life forever. "It was a great experience," he said. "But I'll tell you — I wouldn't want to do it again."
Tureski, who trained in Northern Ireland, experienced history firsthand. "General Patton reviewed the troops and was about three feet from me. He touched my sergeant's bayonet and said, 'You'd better sharpen that up a little bit.'"
But it wasn't all glory, said Tureski. "I landed approximately three weeks after D-Day. I went over as a replacement to England. We were in the field with our duffel bags to be assigned and were told, 'Those on the right side, go to the 29th division. Those on the left, go to the 5th division. The 29th landed on D-Day. If it had gone the other way, I probably wouldn't be here today."
The Battle of Normandy was fought during World War II in the summer of 1944, between the Allied nations and German forces occupying Western Europe. Tureski fought with his comrades from July until after Christmas amongst the Normandy hedgerows as a gunner, carrying 60-millimeter mortar. "During that period of time, I came out twice the only guy left in the squad. The others died or were wounded. It was rough."
After a stalemate in the hedgerows, Tureski's division broke through and cut off the breast peninsula, moving across France as one of Patton's third Army spearheads.
"I fought a big battle in a French city called Metz," he said. "It was a fortified city, never taken. We took it."
Tureski described enemy fire in Metz: "I'm pinned down, and you could hear them going over your head. It was scary. I was practically eating dirt, trying to get as far as I could in the ground. This one guy said, 'Pete,' and I said, 'What the hell do you want?' He said, "You know, I think they're throwing railroad cars at us.' It seemed that way. Those German 88s were terrible."
After winning the battle, Tureski's men marched in a victory parade in the Metz city square. "I argued that I didn't want to do it. I just wanted to relax," he said. "Once we got to the square we lined up and were just getting ready to march when darned if the Germans didn't open up with snipers out of the houses. We were armed, but caught off guard. That was the end of the parade – I was glad when that was over!"
Next, Tureski moved on to Bastone. "You don't know how many times in Bastone, I froze." After a stint on the front lines, Tureski and the others in his division headed into the woods to rest overnight. "We were going to dig a foxhole, but the ground was frozen. I had a cape — I think I got it off a dead German — and I had my raincoat. I picked out a nice tree and I sat down against it with my knees up. It was very cold and felt like it was going to snow. My guy was supposed to wake me up at 5 a.m. to go on guard duty. Finally, he wakes me up and says, 'What a hell of a job I had to find you!'" Tureski realized he was buried in four inches of snow. "It's a wonder I didn't freeze to death."
Later, Tureski injured his leg when the Germans broke through and was unable to walk and carry his 42-pound mortar any further. "I hobbled back to the to the battalion aid station. I thought they were going to tape me up and bring me back." Ultimately, he was sent to Paris and England, where he credits a doctor for treating his ankle so that he was not forced to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
"After 30 days, they told me that the casualties were so heavy, they had to let me out. They told me I wasn't in the infantry anymore, and I was saying to myself, 'Happy days.'"
Not everyone's ending was so fortuitous, said Tureski. "I lost a lot of good buddies."
For years after the war, Tureski was unable to share his recollections. "It took a long time for it to come out," he said. "Only in the last 10 years that I can really talk about it. I didn't talk about it much before."
War left other scars. "For the longest time after I got discharged out of hospital if I heard a car backfire, I was looking for a building to run to. When you hear something coming or a boom, you run for cover. It's automatic. You don't want to be exposed, in open. It wore off, after awhile."
Recently, Tureski attended his first reunion in Mystic, CT, after being flown there in a private jet owned by a physician friend who hoped to honor the veteran with the royal treatment.
At the event, Tureski reunited with a comrade he hadn't seen in 62 years, who attends reunions because it is the one place where he is able to talk about the horrors of war with those who lived and breathed the same experiences – and who understand.
At the reunion, Tureski read about the four campaigns in which he participated — Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Bastone. "I looked the casualty list and there were 93,000 killed in action in those four campaigns. How in the hell did I survive all that?"
Once, after being hit with shrapnel, Tureski was told by a medic that he'd be eligible for a purple heart. "I told him I was only 20 years old — I had plenty of time for a purple heart." He never received one. Years later, he tried to contact the medic to verify the incident, only to be told the medic had been killed in action.
"I was proud that I survived. I have no regrets. It was a tough experience," said Tureski.