Editor's note: This is part one of two parts. The second part will be published on Dec. 2.
Micheal E. Pacos was born Oct. 30, 1919, in Jarocin, Poland. Jarocin is located about 120 miles from Poland's capital, Warsaw. This was a small town in Poland, known for great winter skiing and a lot of mountains.
When Pacos was 3 years old, his father Anthony and mother Agnes (Swiercz) emigrated from Poland and came to the United States via Ellis Island. When all the traveling was done, Pacos found himself growing up on a farm near Concord Drive and Chautauqua Road in the small farming town of Fredonia. It was a relative, Uncle Peter Pacos, who brought Anthony and his family to Fredonia.
Michael E. Pacos, U.S. Army
It didn't take Anthony long before he owned his own land, had crops growing in his field and animals living in his barn. It took hard, honest work from sun up to sun down to establish one's own property and a place to raise a family in this new country.
While growing up Michael Pacos did whatever he could to help his family. What he learned, saw, and did growing up on the farm stayed with him for life. These were things like fixing an item when it broke instead of rushing out to buy a new one, painting things instead of buying new things. Pacos thought, if another man can make it, why can't I fix it? This work ethic and sense of value would help Pacos throughout his life in may areas.
At age 5, like most kids in the area, Pacos had to attend school. This was a one-room schoolhouse that Pacos had to walk to and from, three miles each way, every day. His new school had one teacher who could teach children of different ages all the subjects, and this worked well for Pacos. He wanted to learn as much as he could, and school was exciting for him. Only two years earlier, he lived in a county where education wasn't offered to everyone.
This schoolhouse was looking for a student to come in an hour before class started to build up a fire and sweep the floors and have everything ready for class. It didn't take Pacos long to raise his hand and volunteer for this job. He did this knowing he would have to wake up at 4:15 a.m. to get his farm chores done - milking the cows - then get himself ready and walk the three miles to school.
Pacos got the job, which came with a box of matches, a $12 yearly salary, and of course, extra responsibilities. Pacos rose to the challenge, as was his nature, and soon even took on another job after school.
He landed a job at the Mattoon Farm, where he milked 14 cows daily, along with cleaning the barn. As he grew older, he continued to find extra work on area farms in places like Laona.
There seemed to always be farmers in need of good help, and that's what Pacos was.
Eventually, applying for work in Dunkirk paid off when Pacos landed a job as the busboy at the Erie Hotel, one of the finer hotels in the area, which saw dignitaries on several occasions. Pacos' big day came when his boss told him they were having a special guest in for the night. When the bell for the busboy rang, Pacos quickly went out to pick up the guest's bags.
After taking them to the VIP room, Pacos turned, and standing next to him was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who thanked him and gave him a 50-cent tip! Pacos went on from the hotel to work at the Dunkirk Radiator Co. on Railroad Avenue near Franklin Avenue testing radiators.
Like it was in most places during the Great Depression, life in Dunkirk during the late '30s was difficult. The only steady work was in the summers, and only on the farms. For boys, it was a rule that in order to land a job in a factory, they had to be at least 18 years old or married. If work was slow or jobs were scarce, Pacos spent his free time with Joe Binko, Tony Fedyszyn and Joe Skubis. Their respectful upbringing and knowing wrong from right is what kept these boys from getting into too much trouble together - especially during the Great Depression, when trouble was easier to find than work!
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The next day, the United States was at war. Everything else was now on hold all plans and dreams were placed on back burners, all boys between 17 and 35 years of age realized that they would probably be called up to fight by their government, and all women knew life would be different, that they'd have to sacrifice everything from nylon stockings to wedding days. We were at war, and the people of our country were in it together.
The country was in chaos. We only had one combat division actually trained to fight; Hitler had 323 combat divisions. We needed time, men, and training. On Feb. 3, Pacos received the order he had been waiting for.
He was drafted by the United States Army and heading to boot camp. While in boot camp, this farmer from Fredonia opened his new orders and found he was not going to be building air strips on a Pacific island. His orders were to eventually train in Europe after training extensively in Savannah, Ga. From Savannah, he went back to New York but not to his hometown of Fredonia. He went to New York City, reported to his battalion, and was told to pack for cold weather.
Pacos had orders to report to the Naval Yard in New York City. Not being a sailor, this only meant one thing: Pacos would once again pass the Statue of Liberty, but this time she would be on his left. He was returning to Europe, a place his family had left because of the struggles they endured while there. He wondered if he'd get to see the town where he was born. Would he even see Poland?
Would he be able to do any good for our country and her allies? The four-week trip to Europe was full of questions and speculation about what was to come.
Pacos's ship brought him to Scotland, where he reported to B Company of the 818th Brigade, an aviation battalion. His new duties would be repairing and constructing air strips to support the U.S. Army's Naval Air Corps. The unit would be attached to infantry units, and follow them with heavy equipment to start construction after land battles ended.
Training in Scotland continued, and very few, if any, of his fellow soldiers knew what would come next. Each day new troops arrived, and word was that London was packed to bursting with not only people, but war materials from tank parts to toilet paper.
Rumors of an invasion reached Pacos's ears, but when and where it would take place was top secret.
NEXT?WEEK: Part two.