FORT CARSON, Colo. (July 19, 2012) -- John Krajeski says he is
finally at peace.
"I think I sleep better at night, now," he
said, chuckling. "I wanted at least this recognition. It was
something I needed to do before I went to my grave."
years, Krajeski, 86, had been trying to receive the Silver Star and
Bronze Star medals he had been promised 67 years earlier after
performing heroic actions on the island of Okinawa, Japan.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, Colo., talks with Darlene and John Krajeski, July 11, 2012, in his office at the 4th Inf. Div. headquarters building. Photo
by Andrea Sutherland, Fort Carson
His lieutenant wrote up the paperwork for the citation,
but Krajeski stored it in a duffel bag with the rest of his
Army paperwork. The bag remained in his mother's basement
until 1980 when Krajeski found it while helping his mother
"I promised myself that I would follow up on
that. I didn't really pay attention on following up on it
until (2006)," he said.
More than 60 years after the
original citation was written, Krajeski began his quest to
receive the medals, writing hundreds of letters and emails
and making dozens of phone calls to members of Congress and
officials within the Army.
"I wrote to all the
senators, but they all said they couldn't help me," he said.
"That hurt my feelings, badly."
military officials said Krajeski's records burned in the
1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St.
Armed only with the citation from his duffel
bag, Krajeski continued in his pursuit, finding help from an
organization based in Washington, D.C.
"I wish I knew
exactly what was pushing me," Krajeski said. "It was so
important to me. I was going to stay with it until I
couldn't breathe anymore. I wanted at least this
In a formal ceremony, July 11, at the
4th Infantry Division headquarters, Krajeski was pinned with
the honors by Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding general,
4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson.
"It's guys like (Krajeski),
that's why we are the greatest country," Anderson said
during the ceremony. "Most of our heroes who earn these
awards say, 'I was just doing my job,' and I know he would
say the same thing. Today is about recognizing bravery and
Dressed in his Eisenhower wool uniform,
Krajeski took the stage. When the attention to orders was
called, Krajeski stood as straight and tall as he could. His
hands remained open, unable to close into fists due to
myasthenia gravis -- a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular
disease that causes debilitating muscle weakness.
Anderson clipped the medals to his lapel, Krajeski's face
filled with emotion.
"It's such a wonderful honor,"
Krajeski said he
experienced three miracles throughout his time as a private
with the 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Inf. Div.
first came after he fell into the ocean trying to navigate
across the boats after landing at Okinawa.
"I had all
my combat items on plus all kinds of heavy things like
throwing grenades," he said.
As he started to sink,
Krajeski said he grabbed hold of a piece of netting that
hung 15 feet below the boat deck.
"I was able to grab
those nettings and come crawling up like a squirrel or a
monkey and I just got out before those boats crashed back
Another miracle occurred after a
bomb landed in his foxhole.
"It hit 20 inches in
front of me," he said. "I heard it come bump, bump, bump
down into my hole, but it didn't explode. It was a dud."
The third miracle came June 10, 1945, two weeks after
Krajeski celebrated his 19th birthday.
of intense fighting on Okinawa, Soldiers knew the key to
capturing the island rested with the destroying of a single
cave from which Japanese soldiers fought.
troops made repeated attempts to claim the territory, but
were forced to retreat four days in a row to their morning
foxholes, Krajeski said.
"They asked for someone to
volunteer to blow up that cave and I hesitated a long time,
but no one would help, so I got a friend of mine from
another company and we volunteered to blow up that cave."
Armed with their weapons and 100 pounds of TNT, Krajeski
and another Soldier made their way across the hills to the
bottom of an escarpment below the mouth of the cave.
"We had about an hour and a half or two hours of steady
walking and being careful, from where our people were, to
get to this escarpment," he said. "We kept whispering what
we got to do and what we're going to do. When we finally got
there, we made an agreement. We are not going to make any
mistakes; we're not going to do anything too fast; we're not
gonna try and be heroes; we're going to be careful."
As the two Soldiers made their way up the escarpment,
shattered coral on the hillside cut into their hands and
"We bled all the way to the top," Krajeski
Just below the top of the escarpment, Krajeski
and his companion waited.
"We must have been there
one to two hours, and what we would whisper to each other
was 'Don't do any noise. Don't sneeze; don't do anything. If
you have to go potty, you go in your pants.'
so tense, you just could not function. You dare not make one
sound or they would be down on you. Over the hour,
hour-and-a-half period that we were huddled there, we didn't
say very much. We actually touched once in a while to give
ourselves a little feeling that we're not alone."
the Japanese continued to mill above them near the entrance
to the cave, Krajeski's third miracle occurred.
had light flares from the boats off in the sea. They shut
them off for (the mission)," he said. "About three or four
hours up on that escarpment, waiting for those Japanese to
go to bed, the good lord or a drunken sailor pushed a
button, and a night flare came up immediately over the top
of us. It couldn't have been placed better."
said the Japanese rushed into the cave, fearing an attack.
Krajeski and the other Soldier rushed up the hillside,
heaving their TNT into the cave.
"When that bomb goes
off -- 50-100 pounds of TNT -- it was a horrendous blow," he
said. "It blew those big rocks up in the air, and we heard
them coming down. If one had hit us on the head we wouldn't
be here today. It was something to remember. It's something
that sticks with you."
The two Soldiers ran back to
the beach where they were greeted by their comrades.
"My lieutenant, I don't think he expected to see me come
back," Krajeski said. "He wrote the (citation) up the next
Because they were able to blow up the cave,
Krajeski said U.S. troops pushed past the Japanese and
eventually overtook the island.
"That was the last
major fight that we had to get land to get the Japanese
back. It was very important," he said. "After we broke
through on that, it only took us a month of much easier
fighting the rest of the way to the end of the island."
As he's aged, names of the men he
served with elude Krajeski.
He can't remember the
name of the Soldier who stood by his side throughout the
mission to the cave.
"I called him 'Shorty' instead
of his real name," he said. "For some reason his name just
drifted away from me over the years."
doesn't recall the Soldier's name, Krajeski remembers his
demeanor and commitment to the mission.
"He was the
kind of guy who didn't panic when we got up in that terrible
land," he said. "We had to be quiet and had to sit there and
wait for the Japanese to settle in. He didn't spook too
badly. Some kids would have really fallen apart like that."
After the war, Krajeski returned home to Nebraska. He
left the Army as a master sergeant, enrolled in the
journalism program at the University of Nebraska, and
reunited with his childhood friend, Darlene Mecham.
"I knew where her apartment was, and I went to knock on her
door," Krajeski said. "Instead of (a) big hug or something
she stood there. I said, 'Lady, could you spare a crust of
dry bread for an old Soldier?' And she closed the door. I
stood there a moment. She came back and opened the door and
handed me a dry crust of bread. It only took us six months
John and Darlene Krajeski married in
1948. For three years they ran a newspaper in Nebraska,
before heading to Colorado to stake claim on soil John
Krajeski said was rich with uranium. But John Krajeski's
myasthenia gravis took hold and he couldn't work due to his
Darlene Krajeski worked as a nurse while
her husband stayed home and raised their children.
Despite his heroics, John Krajeski rarely discussed the war.
"He never mentioned this for years," Darlene Krajeski
said. "Once in a while he would bring up something that
would happen in the service, but he never would talk about
It wasn't until 2006 that John Krajeski said he
felt compelled to receive the medals he'd earned.
"Ordinarily, a 19-year-old boy and another 19-year-old boy,
we shouldn't have been there. It was ridiculous and anybody
who had experience wouldn't even consider going up there at
night to do that," he said. "The Silver Star, it represents
that the particular person that gets the star has done
something above and beyond the call of duty.
that I have it," he said, "I feel honored and at peace."
By Andrea Sutherland, Fort Carson
Army News Service
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