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Recollections of a War Veteran

Col. George Juskalian recalls a life of valor — Part II

Part II of Two Parts

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Retired Army Col. George Juskalian, 90, of Centreville's Virginia Run community, served in three wars and, in his 30-year career, made enough memories to last a lifetime.

Part II of his story begins as he and other Americans are moved to another POW camp. He was a POW for 27 months total, and 19 1/2 of those months were spent in this new camp, called Oflag 64 ("Officers Camp"), in Szubin, Poland.

"We got there June 6, 1943 and stayed until Jan. 21, 1945," said Juskalian. But instead of trying to tunnel to freedom — as they'd done to no avail in their old camp — this time, the POWs busied themselves with other activities, organizing an orchestra, band, theater group, library, newspaper, athletics, language school, etc.

"For awhile, I was the editor of the monthly paper," said Juskalian. "A guard with a printing shop in the town printed it for us. We put in stories from home, cartoons, pictures of pin-up girls and girlfriends and articles about camp sports and activities."

He said the Germans didn't bother them until the end, when 50 people escaped from a British POW camp and they killed the 30 that they captured. Then, said Juskalian, "A German captain from Austria warned us not to provoke the Germans or they'd exterminate us."

On June 6, 1944, the U.S. landed at Normandy. But three months earlier, Juskalian's bunch sought permission from the German camp commander to have a festival on June 6 to celebrate their first anniversary there. He agreed, and they began planning.

"But once D-Day started, there was bedlam among the Germans," he said. "They thought we'd known about it earlier and were celebrating it, and we couldn't convince them otherwise. We hadn't known, but we were happy to find out."

RUSSIA LATER began assaulting the whole Eastern front and, on Jan. 21, 1945, the Germans marched their POWs to Germany. "We marched 40 days, 400 miles, in the dead of winter, and it was bitter cold," said Juskalian. "We slept in barns, ate wheat and barley and traded old coffee for bread."

They were eventually placed in a camp in Hammelburg with other American officers captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Gen. Patton's son-in-law was among them, so a task force was sent to liberate the POWs there. "They arrived, the end of March, and the German guards fled," said Juskalian.

"But there weren't enough trucks to take us all out of there, German infantry soldiers were all around, and my buddy Pete and I were recaptured," he continued. "We were tired and depressed, but thankful to be alive."

They were soon marched south to Nuremburg, where Americans began bombing. "We were cheering, and our guards were getting irritated," said Juskalian. "But the bombs came down on us, too, and I was sure we were gonna get it. About 30 of us were killed. I was thinking of my mother and how ironic it would be to be killed at the end of the war — and by your own aircraft."

He and Pete survived, but they were surrounded by Germans, with no place to run. They were then marched toward a prison camp near Munich, but were given the opportunity to return to Nuremburg as wounded soldiers to be treated in the hospital. They took it because that was closer to the American lines than where they'd been heading.

When the Germans tried to see if they were really wounded, the British erected a sign on the gate saying "Plague," and that kept them out. "Three or four days later, the 45th U.S. Infantry Division overran Nuremburg and we were liberated," said Juskalian. "We were overjoyed."

They were flown to France, from where thousands of POWs would be sent home. But he and Pete had been prisoners a long time and decided to see Paris before departing. They tried getting money at the Army Finance Office to buy new uniforms, but had no dogtags with their I.D.s.

"But a sergeant there, who managed that office, heard my last name and asked, 'Do you have a relative in Watertown, Mass.?'" said Juskalian. "I said, 'Yes, my brother Dick,' and he said, 'He lives across the street from me.' Then he told the others, 'Give him anything he wants.'"

AFTER TWO DAYS of fun in Paris, they returned to America by boat. Juskalian received the Silver Star and learned he'd been promoted to major just before his capture. Now, just after the 60th anniversary of D-Day, he regrets not being with his organization in Normandy. "That's why I tried to make up for it by volunteering to go to Korea," he said.

"My father feels a sense of guilt because of those who died," explained his daughter Elissa, 30, of Virginia Run. (Son Kevork, 33, lives in Vienna). "But he really shouldn't, because he was serving his country. And he was able to aid in things later on that, perhaps, others couldn't have. He had a special role to play."

Juskalian's wife Lucine is also proud of her husband and all his efforts. And, she added, "He's very respected in the Armenian and American communities."

From 1945-48, when Eisenhower was Chief of Staff, Juskalian was one of his assistant secretaries in the Pentagon, responsible for staffing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined Chiefs of Staff — British and Americans together. He was later assigned to go to Alaska, but instead volunteered to fight in the Korean War.

He arrived there in September 1952 and stayed a year. A lieutenant colonel, he headed a battalion of the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division. "Our major engagement was in March 1953 — the battle of 'Old Baldy,' an important hill north of Seoul," he said. Directing his troops, he led them in a counterattack against strong enemy positions.

THE CITATION for Juskalian's second Silver Star reads, "The battalion encountered a mine field blocking the only route of approach, but Col. Juskalian — with complete disregard for his personal safety — placed himself at the front of his unit and led them through the field. Often exposing himself to the enemy, [he] moved from position to position ... The gallantry [he] displayed ... is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service."

He also served in Vietnam from 1962-63. The first six months, he advised the Vietnamese army corps in the Mekong Delta on tactics to fight the Vietcong. The second six months, he was the inspector general of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, under Gen. William Westmoreland.

For his service in Vietnam, Juskalian received an air medal and a Bronze Star. After retiring from the Army, he lived in Arlington and married Lucine in 1970. Then, for eight years, he was graduate admissions director of Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., and received a masters in business and public administration from there when he was 60. They moved to Centreville in 1989, and Juskalian now enjoys spending time with his family and reading books about history.