Edward Zavecz
1921 - 2012

pfc Edward Zavecz - 134th Anti-Tank Infantry

Edward Zavecz i943 CE with SHAEF shoulder patch.
Transferred to
134th Anti-Tank Infantry,
35th Infantry Dec. 1944.

Eulogy: Edward Zavecz
April 30, 2012

Allow me to convey a brief portion of the life and history that defined the man who was my father and beloved grandfather of my children.

A US traveler in Europe who bothers to go beyond the boiling artificial ethnic mix of the tourist and urban centers will notice with surprise the stronger association of bloodlines and family in their conscious actions. Some associations stand out plainly such as my mother’s family “Janiszewski”. “Ah, Polska!” is typically the cheery response seen in the eyes of the greeter whenever the name arose in conversation.

Moving deeper into the less westernized portions of the continent, those you meet seem to settle a little longer across the name I had just scrolled across the gasthaus registry. Their eyes dwell on the “cz” ending of the moniker and then rise to look seriously into mine to comment, “You are Magyar?” They are right of course since my grandfather Alex Zavecz was born in Hungary in 1894, a citizen of the Austro Hungarian empire.

When traveling behind the iron curtain a few years back, moving deep into a countryside still showing seemingly fresh wounds as the debris and effects of the second world war, the traveler who takes care not to look too much the foreigner encounters an older, friendlier greeting. “You are Vendi! Good!”

They are also right since that is the ancient pronunciation of the tribe. Over here in the US we call this Eastern European tribe Wendish. The Wends are an old tribe with origins that establish their homeland in an arch across Eastern Europe that extends from Rumania, through Slovenia, Austria and into Hungary. The epicenter of the culture lies in the Alps of Transylvania. These people hold the dubious distinction of being the only Europeans to have had a crusade directed against them. Apparently the Wends were the last to accept Christianity and gave the Pope’s army’s a particularly hard time. In his sermons of the twelfth century, ‘St. Bernard forbad crusaders to make any truce with the Wends until such time as, with God’s help, either their religion or nation shall be wiped out’.

Conflict historically plagues the Eastern European countryside and my grandfather Alex left his home at an early age to avoid the conscription and death that had descended upon most of his brothers. Alex moved to Salzburg Austria. He was fluent in seven languages and, having a technical background, was able to get employment with the railroad. He worked his way across Europe to Holland, eventually leaving by way of Antwerpen in the Netherlands to migrate to the US in 1908.

Wends entering the US in this timeframe settled in two communities. Those with agricultural backgrounds migrated to a small community north of San Antonio, Texas. My grandfather chose to seek employment with the Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, PA. After settling there, he met and married Fanny Luca, an Austrian girl originally from a hamlet located less than twelve miles from Alex’s home town in Hungary. Edward Zavecz was born on September 14, 1921. He was the youngest of three brothers; Alex (Jr) and William. He lived on Hayes Street, just three blocks east of Lehigh University, and graduated with a technical degree from a high school located across the street from the University in 1940. He was employed as a machinist apprentice at Bethlehem Steel where his brothers also worked. Edward’s entire life was spent at the Bethlehem Steel. He retired in 1984 rated as a precision machinist or “toolmaker”, capable of working on projects with precision down to a quarter of a mil. Consider that a human hair is about four mils in thickness!

My father met his wife Regina Janiszewski while roller skating in Hellertown, PA. This was a very popular pastime and their trips to various rinks spread across Pennsylvania and New Jersey into lower New York.

World War II and the draft inducted Edward in July 1943. He was first stationed as a private outside of London, England at SHAEF headquarters. I’ve heard many stories of this time from my father over the years. They did not center on parties and camp life but rather on the Irish “second mother” who took him into her home as he was billeted there. He told of the air battles that raged through the night overhead and the V1, Buzz Bomb raids that rained death nearby when the buzzing suddenly stopped and the warhead fell. His stories preserved the memories of fighting the fires and digging through the rubble for survivors.

In SHAEF he happened to bump into General Eisenhower. It occurred only one time as Edward was pushing a desk down a hallway and around a corner. In spite of his fears, the general graciously told him not to worry about the painful encounter, claiming the fault was as much his own. Edward stayed in England and did not participate in the invasion of June 1944. He transferred to Nancy, France in late September of that year when Eisenhower moved his headquarters to the continent. Edward was reassigned to the 35th Infantry Division, 134th Anti-Tank Infantry Regiment located south of Bastogne on December 31, 1944. This was at the height of the Nazi counter offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The 134th pushed on into Bastogne under General Patton and many are the stories of their breakthrough to free the encircled 101st Airborne that held out so gallantly in the town. They pushed the Nazi’s back, striking north through Belgium and into Malmedy, the site of the SS massacre of US POWs.

Their attack carried them across the Maas (Meuse) river of the southern Netherlands and into the fields flooded by the retreating Axis troops. Attacking over an open field, with mud almost up to their knees, a friend of my fathers stepped on a landmine. My father’s 45 cal Thompson machine gun was struck by shrapnel, throwing it into his face along with mud and stones. He regained consciousness shortly, unable to see or hear at first because of the mud. His gun was uselessly bent but saved his life but not that of his buddy lying dead beside him. Others around him were hurt and crying out. He administered aid to those unable to move and then picked up another friend, too badly hurt to walk, and carried him back across the unknown extent of the minefield to a way station. He delivered his friend to the medics and then collapsed, the final victim of a nervous breakdown.

Edward was moved to Maastricht for recovery and treatment and his major recommended a silver star. After release from the hospital, he returned late to his unit as they sat on the edge of the Rhine River. His citation was downgraded to a bronze star because of his late arrival.

The 134th was one of the early units to cross into Germany under fire using the newly captured bridge at Remagen. They pushed north through Germany, circling to make a strike on Berlin. Here in the North they encountered a strange and unknown fortification that today we know as a concentration camp. Edward told many stories of their entry into the camp and the poorly treated Poles, Russians, Germans and Jews inside. He mentioned throwing hand grenades into a pond to feed prisoners that were so thin they looked like talking skeletons. Edward talked of their unit’s feelings for the inhabitants of the nearby towns who ignored the daily stink of the camp in their own back yard, allowing this to happen.

Their unit then pushed further east across northern Germany but they were not allowed to swing down toward Berlin. Instead they pushed onward into Czechoslovakia until they met the advancing Russian army. After a short while they pulled back into Germany. The Russian attack on Berlin was in full swing when my father was temporarily given a sergeant’s stripes and assigned as a driver for a Colonel and a Major Lee, of the famous family that brings us Lee Jeans. These were two OSS officers, their organization is today known as the CIA. They set out hunting for specific Nazi’s. Edward seemed to not want to talk much about these assignments but the officers apparently were quite friendly. On at least one occasion they talked my father into wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant so he could go with them into the officer’s club (this was and is still a severe breach of military law). Apparently they also traveled out of uniform quite a bit in this time.

In late summer of 1945, Edward was offered permanent sergeant’s stripes if he would extend his stay with the OSS. My father had enough points to return home, leaving from the same port as his father before him so many years earlier on the Queen Mary. They docked in New York he returned home to marry his fiancé Regina in 1945. He was then released from service at Indiantown Gap, PA.

Attitudes toward war were different in those days. You did not look forward to one year and then a return to the “World” as did the troops in Vietnam. Edward’s family, as did so many other families, fully expected that they would never see him again. He returned home to find the money he had sent home gone, his car and even his dog no longer here. So he and his new wife started with nothing.

Edward and Regina had one son, Terrence, born in 1948. They lived in Quakertown, eventually moving in with Regina’s mother Victoria on Mill Street while they saved to buy a home. Edward of course went back to work for the Bethlehem Steel but also worked a second job in a new industry, television repair and installation. They borrowed money from Grandpop Alex to help in the building of their home at 395 N Penrose Street and they lived there for the rest of their lives.

My father often spoke of the times when the workers first formed into a union while at the Steel. He told me of strikes, clashes and of being chased through the streets of Bethlehem by police on horseback where they were pursued even up the steps and into the buildings. I personally remember the pain of many continued strikes, one extending for over nine months when I was only seven years old. During this time, we lived on my father’s meager wages from the TV installations and on the local rabbits and pheasant.

Edward was not one to join clubs and he was not an outgoing socialite. The only organization he joined and remained faithful to his entire adult life was the American Legion. His family was Lutheran but he married a Catholic girl and gave his word to Father Sysol of St. Isidore’s to bring his children up Catholic. He is listed on his marriage license as Catholic but rare are the times that I recall him going to mass.

Edward retired in 1984 and in 2006 he was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and macular degeneration. The disease progressed and the stress may have led to Regina’s eventual development of dementia. In May of 2009, my wife Donna and I felt that they could not sustain themselves and we took them into our home. Our hope was that we could return them to their health and they would be able to return to their own home. Several times they were able to go back to an independent lifestyle for short periods, only to worsen and return to our care.

Episodes of mild strokes began in 2010 for Edward and soon thereafter Regina was also subjected to them. At each stroke they lost some of their faculties. It is strange how the relationship with your parents changes during these times. Parents are the authoritarians and mentors through the early parts of our lives. Then as the children leave, if they are blessed with the ability to reside nearby, the parents become companions. Celebrations, birthdays, shared vacations and even dinners tighten the bond of a friendship that grows closer than any remote acquaintance could.

Eventually, as the parents become more dependent upon the care and wisdom of their children, the relationship morphs into one where the children feel the gravid responsibility of making even the base decisions of daily life for the parent. This is somewhat of a role reversal but, unlike the parental joys of seeing your children mature in wisdom and grace, it spirals ever downward toward the painful and unavoidable end that is emotionally akin to the loss of a beloved child.

Edward, unlike his wife Regina, was never a church-going individual but he did believe in God. I know this from his actions and life. I also know this because as he grew weaker and he knowingly suffered through the loss of his memories, he would often sit alone in a rocker. If the day was not at the time when the morbid sundowner’s behavior of the disease carried him and he thought he was alone, Edward would pray quietly to God for help. In the many times I heard him in prayer, I never once heard him ask for anything for himself. His prayers flowed with the hopes that Regina and that Donna and I would be protected and guided through these ever darkening times.

In late March of 2012, Regina suffered another stoke and we thought for a time that she would not make it. She has lost much from this attack but her body strengthened and she continues. On April 14th, Edward also suffered an attack while out to dinner. It was followed by diarrhea that at first improved and then worsened until he had to be taken to the St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown.

Late evening on April 29th, I received a call and my son Corey and I went in to spend the night with my father at the hospital. The next morning Donna and my daughter Wendy went in spend the day with my father as he lay comatose in the bed. I returned home to look after Regina while Edward passed on at about five in the evening on April 30th, 2012.

Our prayers and our love continue.

Terrence E. Zavecz
Reduced from the heart to the written word on May 7th, 2012.


© Copyright 2016, Terrence Zavecz, All rights reserved.
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