Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Frank, Part II: Preparing for War

Frank Louis Strukel, 1945

Frank Strukel was only sixteen years old when war erupted in Europe upon Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. Having left school just a year before to enter into the work force at the age of fifteen, it is likely that Frank was enamored by the chivalrous nature of becoming a soldier and the romance of traveling to Europe. There may have even been a personal stake for the family in Elkhart to monitor the war in Europe, as Frank's grandfather and namesake, Frančišek Štrukelj, was still living in the Fascist Italy occupied area of Yugoslavia.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 inflamed the senses and passions of many Americans, and when the United States declared war against Japan the following day, and then upon Germany and Italy on 11 December 1941, many of these proud young American men rushed to be a part of the military.  By the end of 1942, the total number of Army personnel had swelled to 5.4 million individuals from its 1.7 million the year before. The Army was training and shipping men overseas at a phenomenal rate.

Frank Strukel was one of those men.

On 31 December 1942, Frank left his job at Northern Indiana Brass Company and drafted into the United States Army with a handful of other men from Elkhart, Indiana. His older brother, Charles, had joined the service in October, and it was now his turn to give his services to his country. Frank Strukel was just twenty years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, and 112 pounds when he was inducted into the service in Toledo, Ohio. The following week, Frank and nineteen other men left Elkhart, Indiana, by a New York Central train to the reception center at Camp Perry, near Port Clinton in Ottawa County, Ohio. In a photo taken for the Elkhart Truth on the day of his departure, young Frank stands confidently, almost a bit cocky, with his pipe jutting from his mouth. He still had no idea what it meant to be at war.

The Elkhart Truth, Friday, 8 January 1943, page 4;
Frank Strukel is standing second from the right.

Frank was then sent to Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks for basic training. The facility was brand new, having begun construction in December 1940 in response to the training needed for an enormous number of new recruits. Its first batch of eager young men arrived in 1941. By the time Frank arrived in 1943, hundreds of new soldiers had already passed through its gates. Basic training consisted of a seventeen-week program, but as the war progressed, this was often shortened to speed recruits to the war front. In addition to physical training, the new recruits were schooled in their first month on such subjects as military courtesy, articles of war, personal hygiene and first aid, and other basic courses. But as training progressed these course became far more serious: camouflage and individual security, defense against chemical attack, night operations, marches and bivouacs, marksmanship and small-arms firing. It was clear to these boys even under the pretense of camaraderie and adventure there loomed a dangerous future.

Baracks Interior, Fort Leonard Wood, Pulaski County, Missouri
Mess Hall, Fort Leonard Wood, Pulaski County, Missouri

By the end of 1943, Frank had been stationed at Fort Crockett in Galveston, Texas. Working as an MP on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico must have been quite an adventure for Frank, having never remembered anything but the flatness of Indiana. Little is known of his time here, and it was probably the life of any soldier on any base - one of strict routine and adherence to rules and policies. The terms of Frank's enlistment were "for the duration of the War or other emergencies, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law." It was apparent that this war was set to drag on for some time further, and it was only a matter of time before he and his comrades were sent into combat. One only had to look at the daily news to read the casualties mounting for this war. It is estimated that the United States lost an average of 297 men per day during World War II. The worst of the fatalities were yet to come, and Frank was all too aware that somehow he would be a part of it.

Frank Strukel at Fort Crockett, Galveston, Texas, 1943

By the fall of 1944, Frank held the rank of private, and was placed in Company L, 274th Regiment of the 70th Infantry Division. This division, dubbed "The Trailblazers," was first activated at Camp Adair in Oregon on 15 June 1943. It is not known exactly when Frank became part of the Trailblazers, but he was probably sent back to Fort Leonard Wood in July 1944, where the bulk of the 70th had arrived from Camp Adair. They had all assembled under the command of Major General Allison J. Barnett who had just returned from serving in the Pacific Theater of Operations. They were preparing for deployment. They were preparing for war.

Frank was headed to the European Theater of Operations. He was headed for combat. He was headed for events that would change his life forever.

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