ENNIS — Five World War II veterans whose military service took them to Czechoslovakia will receive plaques from Karel Schwarzenberg, Czech Republic first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, at the National Polka Festival May 27-29 in Ennis.

Hugo Gorgas, Willie Laza, Anton Rejcek, Charlie Tomek and Benjamin Zajicek will be honored during the opening ceremonies of the festival that Saturday, after the parade.

Charlie Tomek

Charlie Tomek of Cameron, Texas, served as a sergeant in the 38th Field Artillery, Battery C. He volunteered in 1941 and went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio then to Fort McCoy, Wis.

“I was a ski trooper – they gave us skis and toboggans. We were on the Canadian border for two weeks sleeping in igloos. It was 65-degrees below zero,” Tomek said. “We couldn’t kill the truck (engine) because it would never start again – the oil would get so thick. It was rough.”

He said they were training in such extreme conditions in the event that the war took them into Denmark or Sweden.

He was farming with his dad on the family’s 200-acre farm when he volunteered.

“There were 6 of us boys – I knew they would get me. One was in the Air Corps and one brother was killed by the Japanese and went down with the ship,” he said.

He served as an ammunition sergeant for the artillery base delivering ammunition and keeping count of what was used. He said he delivered ammo to the guns where they were shooting. Exposure to the noise severely damaged his hearing. They were given only cotton to protect their ears.

“We fired over 100,000 rounds. At the Battle of the Bulge, we were shooting 24-hours a day – day and night for almost a month. We didn’t get much to eat or much sleep,” Tomek said. “The war ended in Pilsen. We set up the guns to fire at 9 a.m. then got the cease fire that the Germans were surrounded. It was over.”

He also served as one of two Czech interpreters in his outfit.

“When we entered Czechoslovakia, a girl got on the running board of my truck and she started speaking Czech,” he said, saying the people thought it was strange to meet a Czech-American. “They had been under German control. They were very nice people.”

He said when they arrived in Czechoslovakia they started celebrating.

“People brought us beer and kolaches from the morning through the night. I was there for four months,” he said. “We were resting and recuperating. We swam in the river every day and just taking it easy. It was a pleasure after fighting.”

He said he sent souvenirs back to his family from Germany and Czechoslovakia, but they never received them.

“I got a German Luger from a German prisoner. He was a prisoner so he couldn’t use it any more,” he said.

After his time in the service, he worked in civil service for 37 years at Fort Hood, Texas and retired in the early 1970’s. Tomek will celebrate his 91st birthday in October.

Benjamin Zajicek

Benjamin Zajicek of Cameron was raised in Buckholtz, Texas. He was drafted and served from 1943-1946 as a PFC in Second Indian Head Infantry Division, Company I, 38th Infantry Regiment.

After making their way through Germany they reached Czechoslovakia where they were to meet the Russians.

The war ended on his 20th birthday, May 6. He remembers his time in Czechoslovakia as especially good.

“I loved the country it was out of this world – just beautiful. I loved the people, but they were so mistreated by the German Army and Gestapo, it was pitiful,” Zajicek said. “They showed us such respect and they swarmed all over us and stayed with us every step. They were so happy they didn’t live under the Nazi’s and they were free.”

He said the people were were terribly starved but once the Americans came they were given the same food as the soldiers.

“I couldn’t speak Czech very well, but I did the best I could and after a while they could understand me,” he said saying he was in the country for about three months. “After leaving Czechoslovakia we came back to the states. First by convoy to France and landed at Camp Lucky Strike then in La Havre, France, then by ship to the states.”

They landed at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas, then went on to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

After the war, he returned home to Buckholtz and went back to his old job working for his uncle in the poultry and egg business.

Hugo Gorgas

Hugo Gorgas of Elm Mott, Texas served as a PFC in the 514th Artillery Battalion. He was drafted at the age of 18 and served from Dec. 30, 1943 to Jan. 2, 1946.

“It was just a few days before Christmas. I had never been away from home before and I was really a homesick boy,” he said.

His family was living in West and he had a room at the YMCA in Waco where he worked for the Geyser Ice Company as a route man delivering ice.

Gorgas served on the front lines during the war.

“We were in Patton’s Third Army. Our commander told us we were to meet the Russians at the Czech border – but not to cross in – just stop. Then my unit was pulled back to clean up pockets,” he said.

He said he was later transferred to serve with the French First Army under General de Gaulle.

“We took Bordeaux, France. We fought three days and nights. After we took Bordeaux, the French came back and celebrated. They liked to celebrate victories,” Gorgas said. “They celebrated so much the Germans moved back in and we had to go back and do it all over again. I was perturbed we had to do it over. We fired so many rounds it burnt out the tubes in our guns.”

When the war ended, he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Being single he had to wait three months for all the married servicemen to be discharged.

“I was scared more at that time than any other time in my life. I tell my friends I was no hero – I was a coward. Maybe that’s what kept me alive,” he said. “They were all good people and we all had to depend on one another. Luckily the good Lord took care of us.”

After his service, he worked in West for a while. He went to school to become an embalmer.

“That got on my nerves knowing all the people from West (who passed away). I decided it was time to move on,” he said saying he went into sales with Grandma’s Cookies and then went into business for himself.

He said he worked for 35 years in the cookie business before retiring.

Willie Laza

Willie Laza of Ennis was drafted at the age of 18 and served in the 313th Infantry, 79th Cross of Lorraine Division, A-Company.

“We landed at Omaha Beach and from there went to the front lines. I was the number three man in the line. I carried a heavy weapon, a B&R with 16 shell,” he said. “It was bad, but something you had to do and do the best you could. I wished I had been back home in the cotton patch.”

Laza said he was injured in shelling at Hatten, Germany and eventually arrived in Czechoslovakia where his unit stayed on patrol as the war wound down.

“When everything slowed down, they started separating the men to send to Japan,” he said saying that since he had been wounded he didn’t have to go and was moved to the First Division. “We stayed in Czechoslovakia a month or two. I got to know the people there and it kind of felt like home. They had a dance for us.”

He wanted to visit an area to the north where his father was raised, but couldn’t because the Russians were there.

After the war he returned to Ennis, but when he couldn’t find work he enlisted in the Air Force. By then the war was over and things were heating up in Korea.

“They gave me my rank back – they needed men,” he said. “I went down to San Antonio.”

He was stationed in a refueling unit in Bermuda, which he compared to living in Hawaii before the war, when it was paradise-like.

He also served at Holloman Air Force Base in new Mexico and Edwards Air Force Base in California when it was reopened.

When he left the Air Force in 1956 he went to work for the post office and commuted to Dallas from Ennis where he still resides with his wife Hazel.

Antone Rejcek

Antone Rejcek grew up in West and joined the National Guard in September 1939 at the age of 19. The National Guard mobilized with the regular Army in November 1940.

Rejcek served as a technical sergeant in the Quartermaster Truck Company for the Eisenhower Group Headquarters.

He said he only spent six days in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war.

“The day the war ended we were in Germany. The next morning, after the war was over, a detail of six trucks was going into Pilsen. Since I spoke fluent Czech, the commander asked me to go with them, which I did,” Rejcek said.

He said it was his first time to visit Czechoslovakia although he has gone back two or three times since.

“The Czech people were so thankful for the U.S. Army. There was no other country that appreciated us like they did,” he said. “It was quite an experience.”

After the war he said there was no transportation for those eligible for discharge returning to the states.

“I was the highest point man in the company. In the latter part of June there was transportation for the three highest point men,” he said. “I went through separation in France and then on July 4, 1945 I got on a boat in Le Havre, France to return to the U.S.”

After his service he returned to West and started farming. Rejcek will be 93 years old in June and said he is still helping his son on the farm.

Contact Rebecca at rebecca.hertz@wninews.com or call 469-517-1451.