• Veteran Salute: Paul Varsalona

  • Paul Varsalona served with the U.S. Army, World War II, 1941-1945

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  • Paul Varsalona was born in Arma, Kan. He lived in Chicago until he was drafted in 1941when he was 21 years old. Paul was sent to Fort Sheridan Reception Center and waited to be assigned. He received orders to go to Fort Leonard Wood.
    Paul was assigned to the Combat Engineers Group where he spent his time on the Little Piney and the Big Piney Rivers training to build bridges. He was also trained to lay mines, pick up mines, and how to blow up mine fields. Combat Engineers also cleared landing shore areas for invasions. They were the first wave for troops and trucks for the infantry.
    When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Paul went home to visit his parents because he did not know if he would ever see them again.
    Paul boarded the Queen Mary with the other 24,000 troops aboard the ship. They had to sleep in shifts; Paul chose to sleep on the deck most of the time. The ship traveled at 35 knots so that subs could not detect them. They went to Scotland where they participated in more training. They boarded the SS Orbita and were on it for 17 days and everyone on the ship was sea sick. The crew handed out ginger ale and crackers to all aboard to help with the sea sickness.
    Paul was assigned to the 19th Regiment, Company C; there were 1,900 men in that regiment. The Japanese bombed a lumber ship in the Atlantic. His group was assigned to pick up all of the water soaked lumber. It was a big job.
    He remembers all of the many ongoing hours of training they received.
    They joined a convoy in the Straits of Magellan where their job was to clear land. The French met up with his company and searched for mine fields. They were under attack by sniper fire and pinned down during that time.
    They then went on to Algiers where they were on reconnaissance and ran into a captain with the French Foreign Legion, who surrendered 2,000 troops to them.
    Paul had numerous assignments during his years in service. He remembers helping to build six encampments with barbed wire where they put captured Germans. His company went to Sicily and fought. They took Sicily in 39 days, and it was a very tough feat.
    Paul has memories of being bombed by the Germans with their Howitzers. They would bring out 'Big Bertha' at night. Big Bertha was very loud and the Germans were shooting artillery at the same time. The American troops made sure there were always foxholes to dive into.
    Paul spent 36 months overseas and 29 of those were spent in a foxhole. Casualties were heavy during his service time; 40,000 troops passed through their regiment. Paul also spent time as an interpreter when they were out on reconnaissance.
    Page 2 of 2 - Paul's family had five sons who were in the service and they all returned home safely.
    Paul states that if you have a job to do for your country, you do it gladly. Everyone should be proud of any veteran. Don't thank them, hug them.
    Peggy Sowders, a city of Independence staff member, compiles stories from veterans from around the area at the Truman Memorial Building. Contact her at psowders@indep.mo or 816-325-7979 if you are interested in helping a veteran tell his or her story.

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