In Memoriam: The Boys Of Praha
It gave you an element in something that you could possibly believe in wholly and utterly and through which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who had been engaged in it. Project It was one thing that you just had by no means identified earlier than however that you simply had skilled now and also you gave such importance to it and the explanations for it that your personal demise appeared of full unimportance; solely a factor to be averted as a result of it will interfere with the efficiency of your obligation.”
Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls
They now not exist. And even in the Texas farm nation where they were boys, their names are slipping from reminiscence. Individuals who live among the green hills here are hardly extra more likely to learn about Praha’s loss than the strangers who travel the dark farm-to-market roads in their pickups and minivans, taking scenic detours on their way to Houston or San Antonio. That is understandable. Being told the factual history does not make the truth about Praha extra believable. A trip, nevertheless, to the church and cemetery at Praha will go away the visitor carrying away a distinctly American heartache.
The few thousand guests traveling to Praha for Veterans Day ceremonies approach from the north, noticing first the stark, white steeple of the parish church, which hovers brightly over the landscape. The blacktop of FM 1295 runs south off of U.S. Highway 90, instantly on the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption. Close to the cemetery, the pavement curls back deferentially to the west and infrequent site visitors passes quietly, the distant hiss of wheels on asphalt inadequate to disturb the serenity of a spot many U.S. military veterans have come to view as almost holy.
Praha offers outdated troopers a measurement of types for ideas like the price of freedom. There is, though, one thing incalculable, unimaginable to assess or even understand, about the unhappy history of Praha. At this time, it’s little more than a ghost of a city with solely about two dozen residents. The new Handbook of Texas claims the inhabitants by no means surpassed one hundred people through the twentieth century. Those numbers are where the anguish begins in Praha’s tearful reality.
After Veterans Day ceremonies conclude, the curious and the proud stand in entrance of the 9 graves. There, they struggle to comprehend how warfare’s bloody arm could reach this far, collect up this a lot life and destroy it. By the dates on their tombstones and the locales of the deaths, the Allied offensive against the Nazis, Mussolini and the Japanese is recorded in the destinies of these 9 fallen farm boys. Little Praha was not protected from World War II by statistical improbabilities.
Pfc. Robert Bohuslav died Feb. Three, 1944, after Patton’s and Rommel’s tanks had already driven deep into North Africa, and the worst of the combat had passed. Three more sons of Praha went down in France, beginning the week after D-Day. The War Department despatched notices of death to the households of Pfc. Rudolph L. Barta, June sixteen; 1944; Pfc. George D. Pavlicek, July 7, 1944; and Pfc. Jerry B. Vaculik, July 23, 1944. In Italy, Pfc. Adolph E. Rab became a casualty of struggle two days after Christmas 1944. Pvt. Joseph Lev, shot in the stomach through the attack of Luzon Island, died July 24, 1944. Pfc. Anton Kresta Jr.’s life ended in that very same tropical theater on Feb. 12, 1945. On Sept. 7, 1944, Pvt. Eddie Sbrusch was misplaced at sea within the Pacific. Nineteen days later, Pfc. Edward J. Marek died in battle at Pelelieu Island. All their lives were misplaced, ironically, as an Allied victory appeared inevitable.
Within the space of 12 months and nine days, Praha gave up most of its youth — and practically all of its future — to confront unimaginable types of evil on faraway continents.
The soldiers are buried in the Praha cemetery in two rows of 4 and three; Eddie Sbrusch’s empty grave lies just to the northeast; George Pavlicek’s remains relaxation in a family plot across the walk. Veterans Day 2002 finds the tombstones marked with small fluttering flags, toppled vases of plastic flowers, and picket posts mounted with navy service shields and American Legion emblems. The graveyard is unprotected from the urgent Texas solar, but nearby a centuries-old post oak tree reaches out with a promise of eventual shade.
These men are remembered, but not broadly, and they’re honored by title every Veterans Day. The loss to their families, however, and to the parish of Praha, is barely acknowledged by history. The commonality of their sacrifice, it has been argued, is what made it so highly effective and gave America a source of righteousness. Veterans who gather, on the Praha church grounds each Nov. 11 inform bystanders, “Without locations like Praha, there would be no place like the United States.” However what conflict did to Praha nonetheless hurts. And it always will. Lastly, the town itself — mortally wounded by circumstance — turned a casualty.
When the route alignment of the Southern Pacific Railroad situated the tracks a couple of mile north, Praha’s inhabitants and financial system had been drawn away to the prospects of a rail line. A town named Flatonia, just over the rise from the Praha Catholic Church, turned an agricultural crossroads and a cease on the Southern Pacific route. Cash and enterprise left Praha to develop with Flatonia. Praha was by no means to develop into a lot grander than a small nation parish with farm and ranch households settled on acreages around the gothic church structure.
On the outset of World Battle II, Flatonia and Praha were no completely different than many different rural communities throughout the American landscape. Patriotic fervor led people to collect scrap steel and rubber, delivering the supplies additional east on the rail line to the larger town of Schulenberg. Younger males had been coming in from the countryside to enlist and say their goodbyes before leaving for boot camp and deployment overseas. To name it a easier time, although, is to belittle the emotional and intellectual complexity involved in the choice to serve. Even along the dirt roads of Fayette County, Texas, families understood that Hitler and Japan represented more than just a menace to Europe and the Pacific.
Nonetheless, no one was ready to disregard the patriotic enthusiasm that adopted the boys through their navy careers. As they went away for training and responsibility, stories about them started to seem on the front pages of the native newspapers. The Flatonia Argus ran photos and headlines of hometown stone island royal blue crewneck sweatshirt soldiers at any time when they have been promoted in rank or had been dispatched to an essential battle. Letters written residence from the entrance or from fundamental training have been often printed on the entrance page of The Schulenberg Sticker. Caught up within the national compulsion to sacrifice and serve, no headline was too daring nor any copy too excessive.
A 1943 edition of the weekly Flatonia paper included a full-page advert urging residents to buy extra struggle bonds. The message, with its stirring illustration, will need to have undone each conscience in a 5-county region. The drawing in the advert exhibits a soldier along with his mouth open and eyes bulging in shock. Beneath his stricken countenance, the bold typeface asks, “I died in the present day. What did you do “
In Praha, they began to suffer. A notice of the community’s first casualty was delivered in March 1944. As an alternative of a bold headline and a photo, The Flatonia Argus reported the dying with a few matter-of-fact traces of copy in its March 16, 1944, edition.
“The Warfare Division has notified Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bohuslav that their son, Pfc. Robert Bohuslav, was killed in motion in Northern Africa. Providers have been held in St. Mary’s church in Praha this past Sunday. Bohuslav died in Africa on Feb. Three, 1944. In addition to his parents, he’s survived by two brothers, Ernest Bohuslav of Halletsville and Herman Bohuslav of Praha.” The reporter didn’t point out the names of Bohuslav’s sisters.
“There just isn’t a Sunday in church when I don’t assume about him and pray for him,” stated Herman Bohuslav of Corpus Christi. “He was my big brother and he was all the pieces to me. I can nonetheless see the two males from the Military coming up our farmyard to give the message to Momma and Daddy. It took me several years earlier than I was even able to consider it had occurred. I just saved believing my brother would come dwelling.”
At age 74, Herman Bohuslav has loved the full life that battle robbed from his brother. He settled on the Texas coast with his wife, opened a grocery retailer and gasoline station, and raised 5 kids who’ve provided him with sixteen grandchildren. Bohuslav, nevertheless, has neither bitterness nor anger over his brother’s destiny.
“I’m positive what he did, he did for us,” Bohuslav said. “I imply, there were some evil folks on this planet again then, you recognize. And something needed to be executed. My brother was a part of what wanted to be accomplished.”
A scan of subsequent editions of the Flatonia publication gives no further info of how Pfc. Bohuslav encountered his fate. No reportage is present to point the battlefield or his mission in Africa. The small print of the top of Pfc. Bohuslav’s life are undoubtedly locked up in Pentagon files in Washington on a database or in a drawer the place his story just isn’t simply accessed. Past the fence line of the Praha cemetery, Pfc. Robert Bohuslav is hardly more than a statistic.
To his family, however, he’s the one who missed all of the years with kids and journey and holidays and holidays. He might have lived to 90, as did his father, or to his mid-80s, like his brother and sister. Bohuslavs are given to longevity. The private’s oldest sister is 85 and his eldest brother is 83. Instead of working the farm, although, Pfc. Bohuslav commanded a bazooka, received two Purple Hearts and died on overseas soil.
The public was informed slightly more about Pfc. Joseph Lev of Praha. As the U.S. started an offensive against the Japanese, Lev was a part of the ground assault at Luzon Island. The announcement of his demise was published in the Flatonia paper with the imminently predictable language.
“Mr. and Mrs. Emil J. Lev were notified by the Battle Department final week …”
Lev, who got here from a household of six youngsters, was killed in motion in July 1944. Apparently, the Lev family had too many kids for the paper to list their names, and the 2 short paragraphs concluded with the data that one brother and 4 sisters survived Lev. Argus’ headline pronouncing Lev’s death was accorded no bigger sort than articles of lesser consequence, similar to “Backyard Club to satisfy Sat.” and “Barbecue Set for Labor Day.”
No matter how Pvt. Lev’s days unfolded previous to Luzon, his ending bore the drama of a film. Have been it scripted, producers may need called his demise too saccharine a scene to be plausible. The Rev. John Anders, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Praha, notified the Schulenberg Sticker of a plea from Lev as he lay mortally wounded. Anders had received a letter from a soldier who had been subsequent to the Praha man. Lev out of the blue took a bullet within the stomach from a Japanese sniper and went down, doomed to slowly bleed to dying after surviving the island’s fiercest battle.
The narrative of the letter to Anders claimed Lev begged his comrade to write down house to his mother and father in regards to the disposition of his will. In New Guinea – earlier than transport out for the front — Lev had been emotionally overwhelmed by the work of the Divine Word Missionaries, who had been serving the native kids. In his last breath, Lev dictated to the soldier that his life’s financial savings be sent to the brand new Guinea missionaries. On Feb. 15, 1945, Divine Phrase Missionaries obtained a verify for $4,204.Eleven from a Praha boy, who died within the tropical sands not removed from the place the missionaries served.
Demise in fight, of course, isn’t glorious. Unintentional, almost meaningless casualties can be much more painful. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sbrusch of Praha had heard their son, Eddie, had been taken as a prisoner of battle in Luzon. In uniform, photographed earlier than going overseas, Pvt. Sbrusch had a head of curly, disorganized hair offset by nearly pointed ears. His face made him seem diminutive, but his vast smile showed him keen and his eyes prepared.
On Sept. 7, 1944, the Japanese had been transferring POWs from the Philippines to an unknown location when a U.S. vessel attacked the transport carrying the flag of the rising solar. American commanders, unaware their own males have been in the hold of the Japanese ship, launched a torpedo and sank the transport. Japanese authorities later reported 750 Individuals have been aboard. Pvt. Sbrusch’s stays have been never recovered. The Flatonia Argus wrote that his parents, two brothers and one sister survived him.
The boys of Praha stay now solely as fading reminiscences and sepia-toned images. A small sheet of paper posted on the western wall of their Praha church displays all their portraits. In the sanctuary the place they sat by Mass and Sunday sermons as boys, the show gets no extra attention than may a group picture of an area championship baseball crew. On the church grounds, nonetheless, three separate prayer chapels have been built in their honor.
In his image, Lev’s service cap is cocked to the facet of his head to counsel indifference, but his tender, boyish features give him away as delicate and mental. Jerry Vaculik and Anton Kresta seem thoughtful, whereas Eddie Marek is completely happy and dimpled. Trying at the expectant grin of Rudolph Barta, anybody may think he lived a wholesome and financially rewarding life, which must be just concluding with the laughter of grandchildren at his ft.
Behind the church at the gated entry to the cemetery, a memorial stands to honor the lost sons of Praha. Names and photos are organized in a perfect row alongside the underside of the marble pedestal. Dates and places of their deaths are carved into the stone. No one can simply enter the cemetery without first confronting the rock monument and pondering the wives and kids these males never knew, the work they never lived to carry out, the desires they never pursued.
Not like Veterans Day, on most days of the yr no one is present to learn the stories of those males. Visitors spot the pale flag over Eddie Marek’s headstone and the vase of plastic buttercups, tipped on its facet where Anton Kresta lies. On both aspect of the graveyard fence, the land lowers easily into a inexperienced world the place issues are growing and individuals are dwelling one other season in freedom.
Nothing ever changes right here till the Sunday morning earlier than Veterans Day when U.S. Stone Island Uk army servicemen and women from across the country collect to hearken to speeches, which by no means come near explaining this loss. Their minds are pressured to simplify the tragedy of Praha. Vintage aircraft fly overhead; one peels off into the missing man formation, and flowers are dropped, settling like a unhappy rain across the cemetery. The tears fall sooner.
If they had been to look in a Fayette County telephone guide earlier than returning residence, guests to Praha would possibly recognize a few surnames. Largely, though, the relations of the nine misplaced boys of Praha have spread out, moved away and lived out their time in quiet anonymity. Their lineages are disappearing whereas conflict survives.
Earlier than he died, Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavides of nearby El Campo, Texas, told a Veterans Day crowd at Praha that “people have to know about this place. They need to hear about what happened. They want to understand.”
Understanding may prove eternally impossible. But if every chief of every nation have been first made to go to Praha earlier than declaring struggle, the world is likely to be without end modified.
Observe James Moore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moorethink
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