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In Memoriam: The Boys Of Praha

It gave you a component in one thing that you might consider in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it. It was something that you just had never identified before stone island moleskin overshirt however that you just had skilled now and you gave such importance to it and the reasons for it that your own demise seemed of complete unimportance; only a thing to be avoided because it might interfere with the performance of your obligation.”

Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls

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They no longer exist. And even within the Texas farm nation the place they had been boys, their names are slipping from reminiscence. People who dwell among the many green hills here are hardly more likely to know about Praha’s loss than the strangers who travel the dark farm-to-market roads in their pickups and minivans, taking scenic detours on their option to Houston or San Antonio. That is comprehensible. Being advised the factual history does not make the truth about Praha more believable. A trip, however, to the church and cemetery at Praha will leave the visitor carrying away a distinctly American heartache.

The few thousand visitors traveling to Praha for Veterans Day ceremonies method from the north, noticing first the stark, white steeple of the parish church, which hovers brightly over the landscape. The blacktop of FM 1295 runs south off of U.S. Highway 90, immediately at the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption. Close to the cemetery, the pavement curls back deferentially to the west and infrequent site visitors passes quietly, the distant hiss of wheels on asphalt insufficient to disturb the serenity of a spot many U.S. army veterans have come to view as nearly holy.

Praha provides old soldiers a measurement of sorts for concepts like the price of freedom. There may be, although, something incalculable, inconceivable to assess and even understand, concerning the sad history of Praha. As we speak, it is little more than a ghost of a town with only about two dozen residents. The new Handbook of Texas claims the population by no means surpassed a hundred folks in the course of the 20th century. Those numbers are where the anguish begins in Praha’s tearful truth.

After Veterans Day ceremonies conclude, the curious and the proud stand in front of the nine graves. There, they fight to grasp how battle’s bloody arm may reach this far, collect up this a lot life and destroy it. By the dates on their tombstones and the locales of the deaths, the Allied offensive against the Nazis, Mussolini and the Japanese is recorded in the destinies of these nine fallen farm boys. Little Praha was not protected from World Conflict II by statistical improbabilities.

Pfc. Robert Bohuslav died Feb. 3, 1944, after Patton’s and Rommel’s tanks had already driven deep into North Africa, and the worst of the combat had passed. Three more sons of Praha went down in France, beginning the week after D-Day. The Battle Department sent notices of death to the families of Pfc. Rudolph L. Barta, June 16; 1944; Pfc. George D. Pavlicek, July 7, 1944; and Pfc. Jerry B. Vaculik, July 23, 1944. In Italy, Pfc. Adolph E. Rab became a casualty of battle two days after Christmas 1944. Pvt. Joseph Lev, shot in the stomach during the attack of Luzon Island, died July 24, 1944. Pfc. Anton Kresta Jr.’s life ended in that same tropical theater on Feb. 12, 1945. On Sept. 7, 1944, Pvt. Eddie Sbrusch was lost at sea in the Pacific. Nineteen days later, Pfc. Edward J. Marek died in battle at Pelelieu Island. All their lives had been lost, ironically, as an Allied victory appeared inevitable.

In the space of 12 months and nine days, Praha gave up most of its youth — and nearly all of its future — to confront unimaginable forms of evil on faraway continents.

The soldiers are buried in the Praha cemetery in two rows of four and three; Eddie Sbrusch’s empty grave lies just to the northeast; George Pavlicek’s remains rest in a family plot across the walk. Veterans Day 2002 finds the tombstones marked with small fluttering flags, toppled vases of plastic flowers, and wooden posts mounted with military service shields and American Legion emblems. The graveyard is unprotected from the pressing Texas sun, but nearby a centuries-old publish oak tree reaches out with a promise of eventual shade.

These men are remembered, but not widely, and they are honored by name each Veterans Day. The loss to their families, however, and to the parish of Praha, is barely acknowledged by historical past. The commonality of their sacrifice, it has been argued, is what made it so highly effective and gave America a supply of righteousness. Veterans who gather, on the Praha church grounds each Nov. 11 tell bystanders, “Without places like Praha, there can be no place like the United States.” But what struggle did to Praha nonetheless hurts. And it all the time will. Lastly, the city itself — mortally wounded by circumstance — turned a casualty.

When the route alignment of the Southern Pacific Railroad situated the tracks a couple of mile north, Praha’s population and economy were drawn away to the prospects of a rail line. A city named Flatonia, simply over the rise from the Praha Catholic Church, grew to become an agricultural crossroads and a cease on the Southern Pacific route. Cash and enterprise left Praha to grow with Flatonia. Praha was never to change into much grander than a small country parish with farm and ranch families settled on acreages across the gothic church construction.

On the outset of World Conflict II, Flatonia and Praha had been no totally different than many other rural communities across the American landscape. Patriotic fervor led folks to gather scrap metallic and rubber, delivering the materials further east on the rail line to the larger town of Schulenberg. Young men had been coming in from the countryside to enlist and say their goodbyes earlier than leaving for boot camp and deployment overseas. To call it a simpler time, though, is to belittle the emotional and intellectual complexity involved in the decision to serve. Even along the dirt roads of Fayette County, Texas, households understood that Hitler and Japan represented greater than just a menace to Europe and the Pacific.

Nonetheless, no one was in a position to ignore the patriotic enthusiasm that followed the boys by their military careers. As they went away for training and duty, stories about them started to look on the front pages of the local newspapers. The Flatonia Argus ran images and headlines of hometown soldiers at any time when they had been promoted in rank or had been dispatched to an important battle. Letters written home from the front or from basic training had been typically printed on the front page of The Schulenberg Sticker. Caught up within the national compulsion to sacrifice and serve, no headline was too daring nor any copy too extreme.

A 1943 edition of the weekly Flatonia paper included a full-page ad urging residents to buy more battle bonds. The message, with its stirring illustration, should have undone every conscience in a five-county region. The drawing within the ad exhibits a soldier along with his mouth open and eyes bulging in shock. Beneath his stricken countenance, the bold typeface asks, “I died at present. What did you do “

In Praha, they started to endure. A notice of the group’s first casualty was delivered in March 1944. As a substitute of a daring headline and a photograph, The Flatonia Argus reported the death with a few matter-of-fact lines of copy in its March 16, 1944, edition.

“The Battle Department has notified Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bohuslav that their son, Pfc. Robert Bohuslav, was killed in motion in Northern Africa. Services were held in St. Mary’s church in Praha this past Sunday. Bohuslav died in Africa on Feb. 3, 1944. In addition to his parents, he is survived by two brothers, Ernest Bohuslav of Halletsville and Herman Bohuslav of Praha.” The reporter didn’t point out the names of Bohuslav’s sisters.

“There will not be a Sunday in church when I don’t think about him and pray for him,” said Herman Bohuslav of Corpus Christi. “He was my big brother and he was everything to me. I can nonetheless see the two men from the Army coming up our farmyard to give the message to Momma and Daddy. It took me several years before I was even capable of consider it had happened. I simply saved believing my brother would come house.”

At age 74, Herman Bohuslav has enjoyed the full life that battle robbed from his brother. He settled on the Texas coast with his wife, opened a grocery store and fuel station, and raised five kids who have offered him with sixteen grandchildren. Bohuslav, nevertheless, has neither bitterness nor anger over his brother’s fate.

“I’m sure what he did, he did for us,” Bohuslav said. “I mean, there were some evil people in the world again then, you realize. And one thing needed to be completed. My brother was a part of what needed to be done.”

A scan of subsequent editions of the Flatonia publication offers no additional information of how Pfc. Bohuslav encountered his destiny. No reportage is current to point the battlefield or his mission in Africa. The main points of the tip of Pfc. Bohuslav’s life are undoubtedly locked up in Pentagon files in Washington on a database or in a drawer where his story is just not easily accessed. Beyond the fence line of the Praha cemetery, Pfc. Robert Bohuslav is hardly more than a statistic.

To his family, nevertheless, he is the one who missed all the years with kids and travel and vacations and holidays. He might have lived to 90, as did his father, or to his mid-80s, like his brother and sister. Bohuslavs are given to longevity. The private’s oldest sister is 85 and his eldest brother is 83. As a substitute of working the farm, though, Pfc. Bohuslav commanded a bazooka, won two Purple Hearts and died on foreign soil.

The public was told slightly more about Pfc. Joseph Lev of Praha. As the U.S. began an offensive against the Japanese, Lev was part of the ground assault at Luzon Island. The announcement of his demise was published in the Flatonia paper with the imminently predictable language.

“Mr. and Mrs. Emil J. Lev were notified by the War Department last week …”
Lev, who came from a family of six children, was killed in action in July 1944. Apparently, the Lev household had too many kids for the paper to checklist their names, and the two brief paragraphs concluded with the information that one brother and four sisters survived Lev. Argus’ headline pronouncing Lev’s death was accorded no larger type than articles of lesser consequence, such as “Garden Club to fulfill Sat.” and “Barbecue Set for Labor Day.”

Regardless of how Pvt. Lev’s days unfolded prior to Luzon, his ending bore the drama of a movie. Were it scripted, producers might have called his death too saccharine a scene to be plausible. The Rev. John Anders, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Praha, notified the Schulenberg Sticker of a plea from Lev as he lay mortally wounded. Anders had received a letter from a soldier who had been next to the Praha man. Lev suddenly took a bullet within the stomach from a Japanese sniper and went down, doomed to slowly bleed to loss of life after surviving the island’s fiercest battle.

The narrative of the letter to Anders claimed Lev begged his comrade to jot down dwelling to his parents concerning the disposition of his will. In New Guinea – earlier than shipping out for the entrance — Lev had been emotionally overwhelmed by the work of the Divine Phrase Missionaries, who had been serving the native children. In his closing breath, Lev dictated to the soldier that his life’s savings be sent to the new Guinea missionaries. On Feb. 15, 1945, Divine Word Missionaries obtained a verify for $four,204.Eleven from a Praha boy, who died in the tropical sands not removed from where the missionaries served.

Demise in combat, of course, is rarely glorious. Accidental, almost meaningless casualties could be much more painful. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sbrusch of Praha had heard their son, Eddie, had been taken as a prisoner of warfare in Luzon. In uniform, photographed before going overseas, Pvt. Sbrusch had a head of curly, disorganized hair offset by almost pointed ears. His face made him appear diminutive, but his wide smile showed him eager and his eyes ready.

On Sept. 7, 1944, the Japanese have been transferring POWs from the Philippines to an unknown location when a U.S. vessel attacked the transport carrying the flag of the rising sun. American commanders, unaware their own men were in the hold of the Japanese ship, launched a torpedo and sank the transport. Japanese authorities later reported 750 Americans were aboard. Pvt. Sbrusch’s stays have been by no means recovered. The Flatonia Argus wrote that his mother and father, two brothers and one sister survived him.

The boys of Praha live now only as fading memories and sepia-toned photographs. A small sheet of paper posted on the western wall of their Praha church displays all their portraits. In the sanctuary the place they sat through Mass and Sunday sermons as boys, the display will get no more consideration than would possibly a gaggle photo of a neighborhood championship baseball crew. On the church grounds, nevertheless, three separate prayer chapels have been built of their honor.
In his image, Lev’s service cap is cocked to the side of his head to suggest indifference, but his soft, boyish features give him away as sensitive and intellectual. Jerry Vaculik and Anton Kresta appear thoughtful, while Eddie Marek is blissful and dimpled. Looking at the expectant grin of Rudolph Barta, anyone may think he lived a healthy and financially rewarding life, which ought to be just concluding with the laughter of grandchildren at his feet.

Behind the church at the gated entry to the cemetery, a memorial stands to honor the lost sons of Praha. Names and photos are arranged in a perfect row along the bottom of the marble pedestal. Dates and locations of their deaths are carved into the stone. No one can easily enter the cemetery without first confronting the rock monument and pondering the wives and children these men never knew, the work they never lived to perform, the dreams they never pursued.

Unlike Veterans Day, on most days of the year no one is present to be taught the stories of these men. Visitors spot the faded flag over Eddie Marek’s headstone and the vase of plastic buttercups, tipped on its side where Anton Kresta lies. On either side of the graveyard fence, the land lowers easily into a green world where things are growing and people are dwelling another season in freedom.

Nothing ever adjustments right here till the Sunday morning earlier than Veterans Day when U.S. military servicemen and ladies from across the nation collect to listen to speeches, which never come close to explaining this loss. Their minds are compelled to simplify the tragedy of Praha. Vintage aircraft fly overhead; one peels off into the missing man formation, and flowers are dropped, settling like a sad rain across the cemetery. The tears fall sooner.

If they were to look in a Fayette County telephone book before returning home, visitors to Praha may recognize a couple of surnames. Mostly, though, the family members of the 9 lost boys of Praha have spread out, moved away and lived out their time in quiet anonymity. Their lineages are disappearing while war survives.

Before he died, Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavides of nearby El Campo, Texas, told a Veterans Day crowd at Praha that “folks need to know about this place. They want to listen to about what occurred. They need to understand.”

Understanding may prove eternally unimaginable. But if every leader of every country were first made to visit Praha before declaring battle, the world might be without end modified.

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Observe James Moore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moorethink
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