Monday, October 18, 2021

The tale of Lt. Joe

| October 13, 2021 1:00 AM

During World War II, U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Joe Zelazny and his driver were headed back to his unit in Belgium in a jeep, just five days after the Battle of the Bulge started. They were captured by German paratroopers.

There had been a whole company of American troops just ahead of them. The Germans had also captured the company in addition to Zelazny. Then the Germans lined them all up against a wall and murdered all of them — almost.

Zelazny was shot in the shoulder. He laid there playing dead. Four hours later, a German officer was checking them out and found that two had survived. They were put in a building and watched as other Americans were murdered. Joe was then sent to Stalag X11-A in Limburg, Germany, later loaded in box cars and sent to Poland.He didn’t receive any medical attention. He was in a 6-foot x 6-foot room for 10 days.

Joe’s mother and wife were notified that “he was missing.” They didn’t know what to think. In February 1945, all the prisoners were ordered out of the camp, they walked 230 miles in 28 days, they had very little clothing and remember it was freezing cold in February. They found and ate dead horse meat along the way to survive. Then the group could go no further, they were then taken to another Stalag camp south of Berlin.

In early May, the Russians liberated the camp. Zelazny and others walked 50 miles to the American lines. Prior to being captured, he weighed 190 pounds. After returning to the American lines, he weighed 105 pounds.

Roger Gregory is a Vietnam veteran and business owner in Priest River.