Eugene Pentiuk joined the Michigan National Guard in 1939 on a dare from a buddy. They signed up shortly after graduating from high school in Pontiac, Mich. He and his friend trained for a year in the Louisiana wilds as members of the 32nd Infantry Division.
“In August 1941 we were looking forward to coming home and getting out of the guard after our year of service,” the 90-year-old Punta Gorda, Fla. resident recalled. “But President Roosevelt went to Congress and got them to extend our service indefinitely. The president also obtained permission from Congress to send the Michigan National Guard overseas, something he promised the public he would never do.
“Our division commander, Gen. Irving Fish, told us FDR had extended our service and we would not be going home any time soon. Furthermore, we might be going overseas. Some of the elements of our regiment booed the general when he made these comments,” Pentiuk said. “For punishment, Gen. Fish made us take a 25 mile hike with our weapons and full field packs.
“After the march I wrote a petition and all 300 of the soldiers in our battalion signed it, all but officers. I mailed it to U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan complaining about our additional military service,” the old soldier said.
“The senator sent a copy of my petition to the FBI. I was ordered to report to division headquarters to answer charges that I didn’t follow the Army’s chain of command with my petition. I was told I might be going to Leavenworth Prison for violating Army regulations.”
It didn’t happen. But the 19-year-old corporal spent some sleepless nights worrying about it.
The 32nd Division was split up soon after this incident and Gen. Fish, their commander, was retired because of age. Pentiuk’s 125th Regiment went to California to join the Western Command, while the 126th, 127th, and 128th Regiments went east.
Pentiuk attended Officers Candidate School and graduated in October of 1942. He was sent back to the 125th Regiment, where he soldiered as an enlisted man, which was unusual for the Army. He believes it was because some of the officers in the regiments respected what he did sending his petition of complaint to a U .S. senator.
Shortly after D-Day, June 6, 1944, Pentluk arrived in England a second lieutenant. He went ashore on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France a few days after the historic invasion as a replacement officer assigned to the Army”s 102nd Infantry Division.
“We fought across France and reached the Siegfried Line at Geilenkerchen, Germany. I was the light weapons platoon leader for C-Company of the 102nd Division,” he said. “I remember the German tanks we were attacking were in protective redoubts. All we could see was the muzzles of their big guns. As we tried to attack the tanks I realized we were getting enemy small arms fire from our left flank.
“One of our early casualties was the captain, our company commander. A German 88 took him out. He was 100 yards behind me at the time. I realize we were sitting ducks because of all the enemy fire we were taking from the tanks,” Pentiuk explained. “It was Nov. 16, 1944 and we remained in place on the front lines for two days taking a beating from the Germans.
“Because of our lack of heavy guns our initial attack on the Siegfried Line failed. On the evening of Nov. 18, 1944 I got hit when I went back to our company headquarters to sign the casualty report,” he said. “As I was returning to the front an enemy shell burst beside me. I suffered a severe concussion and two shrapnel wounds.
“When I woke up I was being carried on a stretcher by two German POWs. I ended up in a Belgium field hospital,” he said. “I was there two days and then I was shipped to the 94th General Hospital in Bristol, England.
“In the bed next to me was Ernest Mann, who graduated with me in 1939 from Pontiac High School. He joined the 101st Airborne and jumped on D-Day behind enemy lines,” Pentiuk said.
After leaving the hospital in England, he was assigned to run the Army’s motor-pool in Mannheim, Germany. By then Pentiuk was a recovering captain serving on limited duty.
“The war in Europe was over. I was in Mannheim when President Harry Truman decided to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan,” he said.
In March 1946 Pentiuk and thousands more like him, sailed into Boston Harbor aboard a troop transport. He went home to Pontiac, Mich. a few days later.
Before the war he had worked in General Motor’s Truck Division. After the war he joined Ford Motor Company. Some 41 years later he retired as Program Timing Supervisor at Ford.
“I had a hand in building all the Ford cars turned out from 1950 until 1991,” Pentiuk said proudly.
He and his late wife, Marjorie, purchased a lot in Punta Gorda Islaes in 1981. They built the house where he lives today. The couple retired here in 1991.
That same year she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). Marjorie died in 1992 from the degenerating effects of the deadly disease.
They have three children: Sheila, a county commission coordinator for the elected officials in Wilmington, N.C. Randy, owns his own law firm outside Detroit, Mich. Margo serves as a coordinator at the University of North Carolina.
Name: Eugene O. Pentiuk
D.O.B: 5 May 1921
Hometown: Pontiac, Mich.
Current: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 13 Oct 1942
Discharged: 14 Feb 1946
Unit: Company C, 102nd Infantry Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Rhineland Campaign Ribbons (as a result of Nov 1944 actions)
Special duties/highlights/achievements: Upon graduating from Officers Candidate School was the 1st officer returned to regiment where he enlisted.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, July 18, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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