When the splendor of springtime and May arrives, it evokes memories of the ferocious battle for Monte Cassino, which ended 70 years ago in May of 1944.
During the Second World War, the Allied forces fought Germany on many battlefronts. After landing in Italy, their march toward Rome was halted by defenses on the Gustav Line, anchored by the steeply sloped Monte Cassino. This mountaintop bastion stalled soldiers from several nations for five months.
After many heroic but unsuccessful attempts by the Allies to break this defense line, the Allied high command entrusted the task to the Polish Second Corps under the command of Gen. Wladyslaw Anders.
The Second Corps was comprised of men who managed to escape from their occupied country and those who were deported by the Soviets to the Siberian gulag at the beginning of the war. These true Polish patriots were anxious to liberate their homeland from a brutal occupation.
When the detailed preparations were completed, the battle began. It was 11 p.m. May 11, and I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. The Second Corps, alongside other allies, launched a ferocious attack on the fortress considered to be unconquerable. Suddenly, a blast of countless artillery shells turned the night sky into daylight. The ground around me was shaking and I could hear the pounding of my heart.
It took seven days and nights of constant fighting until finally on the morning of May 18 the Polish flag was hoisted on top of the ruin of Monte Cassino, and the road to Rome was opened.
The victory of the Second Corps was significant from a strategic point of view, but more importantly, it sent a strong, hopeful message to the oppressed people of Poland.
Shortly afterward, the corps was reorganized and moved along the Adriatic front, where it distinguished itself further.
Despite the battlefield victories by the Poles, they lost on the political front. When the war ended, Polish soldiers could not return to their homeland because their country was given over to Soviet domination with the consent of the Western powers.
The situation seemed hopeless, trying to start a new life after being in military battle dress for so long and so far away from our motherland.
I met and married my wife, Christine, in England. She had also been deported to Siberia with her family. We were very blessed that our fate brought us to the great country of the United States of America, a bastion of freedom and democracy.
It wasn’t easy to adjust to a new way of life in a new world, but with time things became better. We tried very hard to improve our English and our trade. We encouraged our children to be honest and get a good education, but most importantly to treasure their freedom because freedom is always measured with crosses.
Many springs and Mays have gone by, but flashbacks from those days often haunt me, especially in my dreams. I see myself as a young man, full of life and energy with dark, bushy hair, armed, in battle dress and running, crossing rivers and bridges or climbing steep hills densely covered with red poppies, where so many of my comrades were left behind. Those memories will never fade away in my lifetime.