Joe Crilley

The Unknown Soldier

Click for larger imageOctober 3, 1944, a squad of the first platoon of Baker Company/326th Airborne Engineer Battalion/101st Airborne Division hiking towards the headquarters of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment near Opheusden, Holland. The eighth man in this squad is my Father Pvt. Charles A. Wilber. The road sign says Tiel and Nijmegen. This picture was in the 1945 book "The Epic of the 101st Airborne".
Click for larger imageOctober 3, 2004. My brother Dave and I stand at the exact spot where our father marched 60 years earlier. My father believed he was in this photograph because of the man in front of him, Edward Radecki, a soldier in his squad. Using a magnifying glass it appears it is him in this fuzzy photograph from the book. When I showed Bill Shorter, a member of the same platoon my Dad was in, he agrees that is Edward Radecki, a man he knew.

A year later in September, 2005, I journey on my vacation with the farest spot being Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the home of the 101st Airborne Division. I met with Captain James A. Page, a Historian for the Screaming Eagles, who directs the Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum. I show him the book I am writing, "The Wounding of Charlie Wilber", and the Captain gives me an excellant tour of the museum including the archives in the upper floor.

He goes on his computer and brings up the picture in Holland in which my Dad thought he was in. Zooming in on the photograph, a much more clear picture than the one in the book, I can see that it is not my Dad. "Well, isn't the man in front of the soldier (I thought was my Dad) Edward Radecki?" Click for larger imageThe captain replies that it sure looks like him. Looking at the other troopers marching we can see that there is an emblem on one of the helmets that we can't make out, but it definitely is not the "E" symbol of the 326th Engineers. "What is Radecki doing with another unit?" I ask the Captain Page. He answers that it is not usual-a patrol would take an engineer or two out to disable mines or booby traps that the combat infantrymen were not familiar with.

The captain also shows other various archives that they have including the original manifast of members in General Maxwell Taylor's plane during the D-Day invasion. Among the names is the General's former signalman, author George Koskimaki. The captain has to cut short my visit as he is getting some shots for he is going to Iraq later that week. While I am leaving he points to a set of six chairs that are piled atop of some lockers and asks me do I know where those chairs came from? I have no idea, and he tells me they are from Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden and were chairs from the Fuehrer's dining room. When the 101st took over Hitler's mountaintop getaway, the furniture became the possesion of 327th/401st Glider Infantry Regiment's commander Lt. Col. Bud Harper. He would inform his guests for dinner their origin during the middle of a meal.

One footnote to the picture is that Bill Shorter referred to Edward Radecki as the ghost. It seems that while the 326th were fighting in Opheusden in October, 1944, they were shooting at the Germans from a house, then quickly redeploy to another as the Krauts adjusted their mortar fire. Radecki, not as nibble as the other troopers, was slow getting out of one of the Dutch homes and was covered with white dust after a mortar round stuck their firing position. Despite a ongoing firefight, the soldiers couldn't stop laughing.

The Island

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