Canton Repositiory

May 28, 2004

Dedication of WW II Memorial stirs emotions

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON -- Combat must have been horrific for Daniel C. Lukac, an Army machine gunner who spent almost a year fighting his way through France during World War II.

But he never let it get to him.

“I just kept kind of busy, kept going on and didn’t think much of what the consequences were,” the Canal Fulton man said. “I never got to the point where it bothered me.”

Lukac, 80, is among a seemingly small number of area residents who plan to attend the dedication of the World War II Memorial on Saturday. His wife, Marilyn, will be with him.

The football-field sized, bronze and granite memorial honors the 16 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces during the war, including more than 400,000 who were killed.

Joan Walsh of Jackson Township also will be at the dedication. She’s the national president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

A young girl during the war, she can still picture her four uncles going off to war. Only three returned.

“Uncle Frank, before he left, he got married. And it was like two years later she (his wife) got notice he was killed in the Battle of the Bulge,” she said.

“It still hurts,” she said, sobbing lightly.

Unlike many veterans, Lukac, a recipient of the Purple Heart, is anxious to share his story.

“I notice a lot of GIs won’t talk about it,” he said. “While I’m still alive I might as well express my views and tell the people what happened there.”

In this way he is unlike his father, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who avoided discussing his experiences during World War I with his family.

“He never said too much” about the war, Lukac recalled. Even when Lukac was drafted and sent to Europe, where his father had fought in the previous war, the older man had little to say.

Lukac said his father didn’t offer any advice, but he could tell he was worried that his son might not return.

Walsh, a retired nurse, believes the memorial will help veterans to find some closure.

“These guys kind of put this stuff behind them but they really didn’t,” she said. “They try to put it to the back of their minds.”

Her late husband, Frederick Walsh, was the first American soldier wounded during the Korean War, and she remembers how important it was to him when the Korean War Memorial was built.

“He said it was a long time coming,” she recalls. “He was a person who like most of the Korean vets at that time felt that they were always forgotten.”

Lukac landed in France on July 4, 1944, just 28 days after the D-Day invasion.

As a machine gunner in the 8th Infantry Division, he had the job of providing covering fire for other soldiers in his regiment.

He was wounded Aug. 28 during an assault on a German encampment at the top of a hill near Brest, France.

The Germans, he said, were firing down with an antiaircraft gun.

“We had to fight up towards that. We ran into a lot of grenades and rifle fire and heavy machine gun fire.”

Lukac was hit in the arms, legs and back with shrapnel from artillery and mortar shells, he said.

He returned to combat after a two-week hospitalization.

Lukac said he’s proud of serving in the war.

“We wanted to see that this country was free and we wanted to make sure no enemy actually came to the United States itself,” he said.

And he’s anxious to see the memorial.

“Believe you me, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said.