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Alvin R. Kalicki, 89

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Pinellas Park, Fla.

Branch: Army

War zone: World War II, Pacific Theater

Years of service: 1943–1946

Rank: private 1st class

Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Philippines Liberation Ribbon

Specialty: litter bearer

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

When he wasn’t shooting at the enemy in the various battles fought on the islands in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, Alvin R. Kalicki helped the battle-injured troops by carrying them to safety on stretchers.

“We’d take the wounded to first aid stations or to the beaches and put them on the landing crafts that took them out to the ships,” Kalicki recalled of his duty in battles at New Guinea, New Britain and the Philippines.

In order to reach those felled by the enemy, Kalicki and other litter bearers sometimes would have to fight their way to them, he said. “The enemy was always around and you’d shoot to scatter them.”

And though he escaped battlefield wounds, he lost 50 percent of his hearing from the massive shells fired overhead from U.S. battleships seeking to destroy the enemy as troops stormed the beaches.

“The exploding shells would make me deaf for awhile,” he said, adding that he was grateful to be spared becoming a victim of friendly fire. “None of the shells landed on me, but they were pretty close.”

Yet this mayhem was merely a warm-up for what Kalicki and other soldiers witnessed when the war in the Pacific ended. In the weeks and months after the world’s first atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively on Aug. 6, 1945, and Aug. 9, 1945, troops were ordered into the areas to help in the cleanup.

“When we went to those cities, it was one big mess. Buildings were flattened, streets were torn up and there were bodies still around,” Kalicki said “The smell of death was terrible. It was our job to remove bodies, putting them on trucks so they could be taken away.

None of the soldiers, he said, were given protective gear to shield them from the lingering radiation.

“All we had were our steel helmets. We weren’t given gloves. We worked with our bare hands,” he said.

For years, it seemed as if he had escaped the perils of radiation, but about 10 years ago, Kalicki came down with cancer – first of the prostate, then of the throat.

“I figure the cancer was the result of working in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was probably over there about a month,” Kalicki, 89, said. “I received treatment at the VA’s Bay Pines Hospital in St. Petersburg. I have good days and bad days. My voice is hoarse and I’ll have coughing spells and I urinate frequently.”

Now Kalicki wants to move back to Buffalo, believing he will get better and quicker medical treatment at the Buffalo VA.

“From what I hear, thousands of other veterans are moving to Florida and I don’t know how the VA will be able to care for all of them,” Kalicki said.

He is so determined to return north that he and his wife, the former Florence Loszka, have put their house in the St. Petersburg area up for sale.

In fact, he and his family members hope that if someone reading this story knows of individuals looking to relocate to Florida, they will reach out and consider buying the Kalickis’ home in the Sunshine State. Anyone interested can contact Kalicki’s son Kevin at his email address, kevinkband@aol.com.

In fact, Alvin Kalicki says he is even looking forward to again experiencing Buffalo-Niagara winters.

“Do you know it has been 14 years since I have seen snow,” he said of his eagerness to return to his native roots.