In Belgium, near the end of the war (1945).Michael Sydorko
Mr. Sydorko riding in the parade during the liberation celebrations, Apeldoorn, Holland, May 2010.Michael Sydorko
Mr. Sydorko waits to get a "Thank You" medal from the Dutch government. All the medals on his right side are Dutch issue.
Mr. Sydorko standing beside a Bren-Gun Carrier like the one he drove during the war. Picture taken in London, Ontario, in 2009.Michael Sydorko
Mr. Sydorko posing after the Rememberance Day Parade at the cenotaph in London, Ontario, November 11th 2009.Michael Sydorko
"I’ll never forget the look I got from him, the thanks that I got from his eyes when the pain disappeared, after he got a shot of that morphine."
[...] every day, you know, you could have got killed a thousand times a day from any direction, either sniper or shrapnel or whatever. And the Germans really poured that shrapnel on us, you know. But I happened to be lucky, I managed to get eventually, in Holland, I got a piece of shrapnel in my heel. But that’s the only time that I was hurt really.
It was just a small piece actually. But what I do is my captain pulled it out there and we put some, I forget what it was, something we put on it and it was okay. So I was able to carry on. The regiment [The Lake Superior Regiment (Motor)] was selected because we were all Bren [machine] gun carriers and we were all really heavy firing on it, .50 caliber and .30 caliber machine guns and mortars and whatever else and flamethrowers, you see. So they sent us in there to cut our road up because the British were on the far side and we were on this side and some Germans were escaping down this road. So they sent us in to cut the road off. So anyway, the whole regiment started moving, got a move on and everything on the trip, well, not the double, everything on the triple. So we got to that road and we cut the Germans off and I think they surrendered about 210,000 German troops there, you see [in the context of the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, August, 1944].
We got down there and cut that road off and we were ordered afterwards, like there was a lot of, like the air force had been there the day or two before and they had a lot of German tanks that were knocked to and a lot of German vehicles and there was even dead horses there and dead troops all over the place. And [they] told us to check every vehicle to make sure that nobody left alive in them. So I was checking one tank and they were a big Tiger tank [the German Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E tank] and I walked around the back end of it and came out at the side there and I heard a sound and I was carrying a Thompson submachine gun with me. But I just wanted to get over quickly because you don’t know what the hell is going to happen there. And there was this young German officer sitting beside the front end of the tractor and his right leg was off just below the knee. And he had a tourniquet on and he looked pretty bad shape. So he had a gun strapped outside his jacket that he was wearing. I told him to, between the little German I knew and the English he understood, told him to get rid of the gun so he took the gun and he threw it away, it was in a holster. Then I thought to myself, what the hell and there were other guys all over the place but I’m here and I’m with him, what the hell do I do now?
We carried morphine in our little medical packs, in case you needed it. And I asked him, would you like to, he seemed like he was in awful pain, which he was. And anyway, I asked him if he wanted a shot of morphine, you see. But he didn’t know what it was, so I told him, as well as I could, to make him understand, it would kill the pain. So I gave him a needle in there, just above his knee there, close to the wound and about two minutes later, I’ll never forget the look I got from him, the thanks that I got from his eyes when the pain disappeared, after he got a shot of that morphine. It was another part there, well, he was an enemy but I’m his enemy. But I felt that I had to help him.
One thing, whether hate or luck or what you will call it, until this day I don’t know but we got to the Leopold Canal in Belgium, the Germans blew the bridges up and we couldn’t cross. Because we were pushing them and pushing them hard and they were running away from us really, most of the time. And what we had to do there is the whole regiment had to put out forward observation posts every hundred yards or so and set up machine guns and so on and guys sitting there with binoculars and watching the Germans across the canal. And see what was going on. And they had radios to contact us in the back of the lines, you see. And these observation posts, there was, in my area there where we were, I was an unconfirmed sergeant at that time because they were short of military leaders so they put stripes on me. So I was in charge of five of those observation posts, to check them to see things were going okay.
So anyway, I’m walking, got to this one post there, and there’s only one guy and there’s supposed to be two so I said: ‘Where’s your buddy?’ And he said: ‘Well, he went back to the vehicle, see if he can get something to eat because he hadn’t eaten nothing for two days or so.’ So anyway, the Germans just before that had been shelling but they knew where our vehicles were so they were pouring everything at us in there. And it was back of the observation post.
So anyways, and then he turns around, the guy that was in the trench there, so he said, and I’m hungry too, he said, I could use something to eat too. And the Germans had stopped shelling, it was just about getting dark and at night, you don’t move, you don’t have no lights, you don’t move nothing. So I told him, I said: ‘Well, if you can hurry up, you can go back there because things kind of quieted down now, so you can go back there and I’ll watch your post for you.’ So he really thanked me quickly and ran and I said: ‘You’d better get back as soon as you can and bring that other guy with you.’ And he left maybe for two or three minutes after that and I sat in there and I took the field glasses that they had there and I looked across the canal and about a couple of miles ahead I could see Germans walking around there. So anyhow, then one German I guess decided to give one last blast for the day and it was what they fired, what we used to call a Moaning Minnie mortar bomb [a German rocket launcher]. That thing is I’d say about four inches in diameter, 18 inches long and it’s jet propelled and at the back end of it, it’s got a, some kind of a funny propeller thing. That when it flies through the air, it makes an awful weird sound.
So it fired this thing here and by now, I figured I knew well enough, it’s going to hit and hit close. So it was still in the air when I heard the words, get out of here, now! There was nobody within 100 yards of me, not a live soul. And I heard those words, whether they were in my mind or what, I don’t know, I can’t figure it out until today. So I all of a sudden felt like as if something lifted me up and took me out of that trench and I ran maybe 25 yards or so and the mortar bomb hit there and hit right in the trench, where I had been sitting.