October 15, 2012
Daily American Correspondent
The Frosty Sons of Thunder Company C, 103rd Armor and 110th Infantry held their annual reunion Sunday afternoon at the Stoystown American Legion. Retired Col. Carl Walpusk attended as the honored guest and was recognized as the group’s oldest member.
The Frosty Sons of Thunder also recognized Korean War veterans as special guests along with Vietnam War veteran James K. Yost, a Marine who lost his left leg to machine gun fire in Vietnam.
Other veterans, including Lawrence Hartle, were recognized through memorabilia exhibits shared by families of the late veterans. Hartle was a prisoner of war in France during World War I.
“The reunion is for past and present members. People come from all over to attend, the farthest being from Tennessee,” retired Brig. Gen. Robert Sembower, committee chairman, said.
At the reunion Walpusk shared the story of his service during World War II, which is also mentioned in the book “The Forgotten 500” by Gregory A. Freeman. The book chronicles the events of the rescue mission.
Walpusk, who graduated from Boswell High School, entered the service in March 1943. He was serving with the U.S. Army in Italy when he met Paul Mato, who needed one more man in his flight crew. Walpusk joined the 98th Bomb Group from Africa and Italy.
In July 1944 Walpusk’s crew was returning from a raid on Ploiesti, Romania, when their plane was shot down by German fighters. The gunner, Thomas P. Lovett, was killed during the attack. The remaining crew escaped from the planes by parachute.
Walpusk and the rest of his crew were rescued by a band of Serbian Chetnik fighters. The Chetniks were led by Gen. Draza Mihailovic. The Chetniks, along with Serb civilians, worked to keep the Americans safe.
Walpusk lost his shoes in the escape and had to spend nearly a month shoeless. The men had to survive on little food and supplies. The civilians in the area were poor and lived on small farms with only a few animals. They offered what they had to the Americans, even if it meant going hungry themselves.
“I can never say enough about these people,” Walpusk said. “They didn’t have much, but they gave us one to two meals a day and risked their lives to help us.”
For 33 days the crew stayed on the move, traveling to different farmhouses almost daily. Equipped with only his uniform and a pistol, Walpusk said his goal was to try to stay hidden.
“We slept under hay bales in the barns. Sometimes the Germans would be near, and we would have to wake up in the middle of the night and move to avoid capture. If the Germans would have caught the Serbs housing us, they would have killed them,” he said.
Walpusk and his crew were rescued by airlift in August 1944, the largest ever from behind enemy lines, in a mission called Operation Halyard. At least 512 allies were rescued in the mission from August to December.
The Yugoslavian government arrested Mihailovic and put him on trial. Walpusk and his crew wanted to testify on behalf of the man who helped them survive and escape. But the Americans were not allowed to enter Yugoslavia, and Mihailovic was executed July 17, 1946.
Walpusk went on to serve 35 1/2 years in the military and 30 years as a National Guard technician. His awards include the Purple Heart, Air Medal with Oak Leaf, Army Commendation, Good Conduct and several other service ribbons.
Walpusk says the story first reached the press in 1946.
Additionally, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force contacted Walpusk about a potential film, which would archive the events. Walpusk said that few people knew about the event, and it did not get much publicity because the men were not allowed to discuss how they got out.
“The Serbs offered everything. That’s why we want people to know about it. I would expect and hope people in our country would do the same thing,” Walpusk said.
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