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John Maruschak, 922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment (EAR)

John Maruschak

922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment (EAR)

National WWII Memorial Honoree

John Maruschak's experiences with the 922nd E.A.R. went as follows:

Let me start at the beginning of my Army experience. I was drafted February 8, 1943 & sent to Atlantic City, NJ for my basic training. It was the way I wanted it to be. My childhood dream was to become a fighter pilot in a pursuit plane, but things changed (as they oft do in the military). Instead of being sent to radio school, I was sent to Camp Lee, VA, in April, 1943, for truck driving school. Then, in June, 1943, I was sent to Salt Lake City replacement depot, along with twenty others. From there I went to Gieger Field in Spokane, WA & joined the Engineers. I became a jeep driver for the company commander, until we moved out in August, 1943 to Camp Miles Standish in Taunton, MA. There was one harrowing incident which happened at that time, which occurred in the process of practicing abandon ship in a lake in Taunton. We were towed onto a make-shift ship with rope ladders. We climbed down the ladders onto a raft & while being towed back to shore, the raft overturned. Being an experienced swimmer & former lifeguard, I was able to assist three of my comrades, who could not swim. I was recommended for the Soldier's Medal by the lieutenant in charge of the operation, which I never received (I might add). On a lighter note, I was shortly thereafter assigned to guard duty at the W.A.C.C. barracks. Maybe this was better than the Soldier's Medal? Whether I peeked inside, I'll keep to myself.

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth

I shipped out soon thereafter on the Queen Elizabeth. While underway, we were alerted that we were being followed by a U-boat. However, our ship was apparently too swift for the sub to track us. On the fifth day, an English bomber flew over us, granting us some peace of mind. We were safe from U-boats as we were being escorted up into the English Channel. We landed in Girrock, Scotland & travelled via train to our permanent camp in Birch, Essex County, England. Upon arrival, I was not assigned a vehicle. Rather, I was put on duty painting road signs for the 922nd E.A.R. I thought it strange that the first real job I was asked to perform in defense of our country would be that of an artist. My days were a bit “ho-hum” until I happened to go into Colchester town, had a bit too much to drink & got a little beat-up as result of a fracas with the Air Corps Military Police. In the meantime, someone had taken a weapon’s carrier & smashed it into a pill box that the English had constructed along the road. The short end to the story is that I got blamed for the incident because my face had some bumps & bruises. As result, my company commander, Capt. Gosnell, assigned me to be his driver so that he could keep an eye on me. However, because I was such a great sign painter, they turned the command car duties over to one Gordon Farr. This was very important because of what happened later on. Col. Parks needed a driver & they sent Gordon to drive for him. When Col. Parks was sent back to the U.S. to form another unit, Col. Little replaced him & inherited Gordon as his driver.

Meanwhile, the European Invasion was beginning. My sign painting days were history. I was essentially made a foot soldier & landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. Charles "Pop" Jones & I landed together & were somehow severed from our unit. That first night we slept in a ditch along a hedgerow. It was difficult climbing through the hedges, as you did not know who was on the other side. Luckily, we found our unit. The front lines were static for awhile & soon I was assigned to drive a half-track for a recon crew. I named it "Flossie," after my wife, Florence. In charge was Lt. Miesell & Lt. Norkin. Our job was to reconnoiter suitable land to build an airfield for light bombers & pursuit planes. When a location was found, our radio operator, Howard Dunn, was to send a coded message to headquarters. This recon duty was not an easy chore, which entailed following infantry through roads clogged with dead, both human & animal, & burned out tanks & vehicles. Mines riddled the route. One of our jeeps drove over one & all three men were injured.

When we passed through St. Lo, the smell of decaying flesh was unbearable, as graves registration did not have time to pick up the dead for burial. The heat of the day did not help the situation any. From there we went through LeMans & Chartres, on the way to Paris. When we reached the outskirts of Paris, the entire U.S. Army was stopped. After a long time, the French Lorraine division passed by us & drove into Paris so that General DeGaulle could get his accolades & take credit. However, the Parisiens knew it was the Americans who liberated them. We spent the night in a park in Paris & then it was on to Le Bourget Airfield, where Charles Lindbergh had landed on his famous flight. The airport was still under siege, when Cols. Parks (who returned from the U.S.), Hall & Little arrived driven by Gordon Farr. Col. Parks had insisted on seeing Lindbergh's landing spot & told Lt. Miesell to have me drive them around the airfield. Lt. Miesell refused, as he did not want me or anyone getting shot at. Col. Parks ordered Gordon Farr to drive them onto the airfield. The group was met by enemy machine gun fire, as they drove around a building. There was a French tank with us & the tank went in, killed the Germans & brought our guys back. Col. Hall was killed on the spot. Col. Little died two days later in a French hospital. Gordon Farr was badly wounded, but survived. To this day, I think that it could have been me driving that command car, had not fate intervened.

As August faded into September, we worked our way into Belgium, where regimental headquarters was to be stationed. We spent September, October & November of 1944 in that country. In December, we were caught in the Battle of the Bulge. One day, I received a letter from Florence telling me that her only brother, a Marine, was killed on Guam, in the Pacific. I was stricken by the bad news & just then a buzz-bomb (V-1 rocket) cut out & exploded very nearby. I was sitting in a building by a window & when I heard the V-1 engine stop, I dove under a table. It is fortunate that I did, because the entire window frame blew out right where I was sitting. Luckily, I was not cut by flying glass. Not long after that, the weather turned very cold. We were driving down a road & were informed that the area ahead was under German control. There was about 18′ of snow on the ground & Lt. Norkin told me to drive through a field to get around the impasse. I had snow cleats on the half-track, so driving through the snow was not much of a problem. As I was pushing through the snow, I saw water vapor coming from under the hood. A head gasket blew & we were stranded. Lt. Norkin had me stay with the vehicle & he & the rest of the crew left. Soon night fell & I tried to sleep, but it was too cold. When day came, a tank retriever arrived & pulled me out & took the half-track back to ordnance for fixing. My feet were in bad shape & Lt. Norkin had me taken to a field hospital, where I thawed out. Soon the swelling in my feet subsided & I was able to put my combat boots on again. I got back to camp & my half-track was waiting for me.

On December 24, 1944, because of German pressure, we started an orderly retreat to St. Frond. Christmas day was one of the most miserable days of my young life. It was below zero, with drifting snow & howling winds. I felt just awful. When we arrived in St. Frond, we camped in a Catholic monestary. There it was warm & we went to Christmas mass. The young boys, who would some day become priests, doubled up in rooms to give us some space. One day in St. Frond the weather turned nice & a Messerschmitt swooped so low over my head, I could see the pilot looking down at me. I aimed my half-track's .50 caliber machine gun at him, but my company commander yelled, “Maruschak, if you shoot that gun, I'll have you court martialed.” There was apparently an ammunition depot next to us. The Nazi plane was shot down about a half mile down the road.

The next stop was Aachen, Germany. One late afternoon, with the sun setting, I saw the trail of a V-2 rocket on its way to London. The English estimated that these missiles killed at least 10,000 people. While in Aachen, I suffered one of my worst migraine headaches. Our doctor knew that I had this condition, so he entered my nostrils with an instrument that perforated my nasal membranes & stuffed cotton swabs up my nose. He gave me some morphine & told me to go back to the place where we were billeted at the time & lie down. The morphine made me a bit dizzy. While lying on the floor, our first sargeant Schwenker walked into the room & accused me of goofing off & kicked my feet. I cursed at him in anger, picked up my M-1 & shot at him. Luckily, I missed. That created quite a stir & someone told the doctor what had happened. The doctor told Schwenker that if he ever did something like that again to one of his patients, he'd have his stripes removed. I never spoke with Schwenker again.

By January of 1945, the allied forces pushed Hitler's army back into Germany. As the line advanced, we ended up in Bonn. While there, we received word that the bridge at Ramegan was still intact, enabling us to cross the Rhine River. Subsequently, an unfortunate incident befell our unit at an airfield in Magdeburg. When Howard Dunn radioed our headquaters, the enemy picked up our signal & began shelling us. Clarence Potts & I took refuge in a basement of a building. Sadly, twenty infantrymen were killed in the airfield's hangar.

After we left Magdeburg, we encountered one of Hitler's forced labor camps in Nordhausen. They were building the V-2 rocket. There were many dead prisoners lying about & we enlisted civilians to cart the dead to mass graves our bulldozers started to dig. I just could not imagine how one human being could do that to another. Most of the victims starved to death, but others were killed in haste. I saw numerous corpses with bayonet wounds. How people could today deny that this happened is unfathomable.

We departed in the rain. As I was driving down a street, I suddenly encountered a sharp turn. I could not make it, as the tracks were pushing the front wheels forward on the slick surface. I climbed the pavement & hit a house, knocking down half a wall, much of which landed on Flossie's hood. The people inside were obviously stunned, but “Cest le guerre.”

Another episode happened shortly thereafter, in the funny/serious vein. We were to recon an airfield & on our way encountered an infantry outpost that warned us that the enemy was in the area. Miesell said “Let’s go,” so I dropped the windshield cover & radiator guard & off we went. I happened to look out of my driver’s side vent & saw the earth exploding along side us. Obviously being shelled, I informed Miesell of that fact. He got so excited that he could not say “Maruschak.” It came out as a stuttered “Moo...step on it!” After that I received the nickname “Moo.” Bill Chastain & George Yenchak still call me that. We made it through safe & sound, by the way.

All along the way, little things were happening that drift in & out of my mind to this day. For example, while in Germany (near Kassel), we ran out of rations & resorted to deer hunting. I can remember roasting venison on the end of a stick like you’d roast a marshmallow. One lesson we learned here is not to use a machine gun to hunt, or you won't have much left to eat.

We continued through Leipsig & Dunne until we were about twenty miles from the Czechoslovakian border. It was then that we received the glorious news that the war had ended. We were briefly stationed in Ulm & Uberach. In the wait to ship home, I became a night dispatcher in the motor pool. I turned my half-track into ordnance, which was a bitter-sweet event. I became so attached to it, I wished I could have brought it home with me. One the way back to the coast, from August to November, I stayed in Buc, just outside of Paris. I returned home in November of 1945, on the ship West Point. We sailed through a wicked storm, which made the landing all the more sweet. And here I am, 60 years later, writing this. In the interim, I've been living with the same wonderful woman, in the same home, & have two good sons.

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