November Veteran of the Month:

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 6, 2006

Charles V. Pollack, U. S. Army, 89th Tank Battalion, Korea, 1950-1952

By: James G. Smith, Legionnaire

Special to the Selma Times-Journal

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Writer’s Note: Charles V. Pollack is November Veteran of the Month for Post 20.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are ideals every American is entitled to as evidenced in our Constitution.

There are times when most probably take these principles for granted without much thought as to how they are maintained.

Those who have experienced first hand the deprivation of human rights and dignity under a ruthless dictator or despot, probably treasure and respect these ideals more than the average person.

The premise being, it is difficult to comprehend being deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness unless you too have been deprived.

There were millions who suffered and died under Adolf Hitler’s rule in Europe before and during World War II.

The fortunate escaped to safe havens like America.

The unfortunate suffered and most died horrible deaths in concentration camps scattered throughout Europe.

The inhumanity of Nazi Germany was unprecedented in modern history.

Onto this violent and tumultuous continent, Charles V. Pollack was born in Austria.

Pollack’s father was Austrian and his mother, Rose Bernstein Pollack, was Lithuanian.

The two had met while she studied at the Vienna Conservatory of Music in Austria.

In 1936, Pollack’s father died a mere two years before the Nazis took over control of Austria in 1938.

Charles was only 8 years old at the time, but recalls listening to the radio the night of occupation and seeing the buildings decorated with swastikas the next morning.

Fortunately, Rose Pollack used her Lithuanian citizenship to flee Austria along with Charles and his sister, Ernestine, after the occupation by Germany.

The Pollacks traveled from Horn, Austria, to Vienna where they were befriended by an instructor at the Vienna Conservatory of Music.

Rose Pollack used the conservatory as a base while attaining papers to return to her native Lithuania.

Once back in Lithuania, family members in Selma, Ala., began lobbying to get them brought to the United States and out of harm’s way.

Rubin Bernstein and Harry Maring Sr. were successful in their efforts and Rose, Charles and Ernestine arrived in Selma in 1939.

The remaining Bernstein family of Charles Pollack paid a terrible price in the deaths of his grandparents and two aunts in Nazi concentration camps.

An uncle, Leo, survived the camps and came to the United States in 1948.

Charles and Ernestine Pollack enrolled in Selma City schools and Charles graduated Albert G. Parrish High in the Class of 1949.

As was the case with many young men of the time, he joined the local National Guard unit in Selma.

After all, who could resist the $2.50 a week made at drill with the added benefit of khaki clothes to wear.

After attending the University of Alabama the remainder of 1949 and most of 1950, the National Guard unit was called to active duty in December 1950.

They reported to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training and further instructions in January 1951.

Upon completion of assignments at Fort Jackson, Pollack and some others were singled out to attend tank leadership school at Fort Knox, Ky.

Intensive training continued afterwards participating in several maneuvers around the country.

In December 1951, a tank commander was requested for deployment to Korea. Pollack and two other soldiers qualified for the assignment.

They chose to draw straws with the short straw filling the slot. Wouldn’t you know, Pollack drew the short straw.

Pollack reported to Fort Lawton, Seattle, Wash., a staging area for replacements on their way to Korea.

During the early 1950s, roughly 10,000 replacement troops a day were processed through for the war effort in Korea.

Pollack doesn’t recall the troop ship name, but he does recall the long journey along the north Pacific route to Japan.

The first night out, a tremendous storm was encountered sending many of the fresh troops to the railings.

Pollack succumbed to every land lover’s nightmare, sea sickness, about five days into the 15 day trip.

After a very brief layover in Japan, Pollack boarded another ship for the trip across the Korea Straits into the Yellow Sea and disembarked at Inchon Harbor, Korea.

Pollack’s duty assignment was tank commander in “C” Company, 89th Tank Battalion, 25th Infantry Division attached to a Turkish Brigade in Satari Valley, Korea.

The Main Line of Resistance (MLR) was at or near the 38th Parallel. “C” Company was providing fire support for the Turkish troops along their area of responsibility.

On Pollack’s arrival in Korea during January 1952, a lull in the fighting was in force. Peace negotiations had been initiated in July 1951, and after a brief walkout, resumed in November.

Optimism for peace was so high, Pollack thought he would make the trip over and simply turn around and return home. Unfortunately, the war continued on for another 18 months.

Korea had turned into a stalemate. Both UN and communist forces took advantage of the lack of major offensives by reinforcing their positions.

The UN forces maintained an almost continuous line of trenches, bunkers and artillery positions stretching from the west coast to the east coast of Korea.

The communist did the same with very elaborate tunnels and emplacements dug deep into the sides of mountains.

Some of the tunnels and caves could hold an entire battalion of infantry and withstand anything but a direct hit by bombs or shells.

Korea was no less dangerous in 1952 than previously, but the war was fought in more stationary positions with neither side willing to unleash a major offensive.

They were both content to take small jabs at each other with raids, patrols, bombardments and limited probes at the others defenses.

There wasn’t a day that went by without a clash somewhere along the lines of opposing forces.

The communist were expending about 6,800 shells a day at UN positions by June 1952.

Into this quagmire Pollack found himself thrown, living like moles in underground bunkers with only a potbellied stove for warmth.

Bunkers provided some protection from the Chinese mortars and artillery rounds.

Temperatures in the sub-zero range effected every facet of everyday survival.

While on duty, c-ration meals would freeze and had to be extracted from the can and eaten like popsicles.

Of course the daily patrols and retaliations for enemy fire required being inside the tanks without any heat.

Tears created by the extreme cold and moisture from breathing though the nostrils would collect and freeze on the tankers’ faces.

While at Satari Valley, the Turks volunteered to provide all the security for the base camp.

At first, Pollack felt a little uneasy depending on the Turks for security, but after a few days of seeing the Turks come in from raids showing off their collection of enemy ears, fingers and various other body parts, his anxiety diminished completely.

Stories abounded of the Turks dealing with thievery, cutting fingers and hands off those who were caught stealing.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of stealing going on in the Turkish camp.

After a three month stint with the Turks, Pollack’s company moved to Mundung-ni Valley where they spent April, May and June.

On July 4, 1952, Pollack was promoted to platoon sergeant. He attributes it to attending leadership school at Fort Knox, Ky., but according to the high praise given him by his platoon leader, one could conclude it was on performance and merit.

As platoon sergeant, he was responsible for the five tanks in his platoon.

During the three months at Mundung-ni Valley, Pollack’s unit was dispatched to Heart Break Ridge where they remained for a week in support of UN forces occupying the ridge.

There is a story circulating that a certain sergeant, Pollack excluded, had a dud Chinese mortar round land between his feet while attending a two hole latrine at Mundung-ni Valley.

Of course, my information is from a reliable source and I believe it to be true. It certainly is a reminder of the dangers faced by our troops even during their most private of moments in Korea.

Before being assigned to the Punch Bowl, Pollack enjoyed the luxury of being in reserve. It provided the opportunity to see Betty Hutton at a touring USO show.

There is nothing like a beautiful woman to lift the spirits of front line troops.

Pollack would spend another agonizing three months of front line duty at the Punch Bowl before acquiring the required points for rotation.

He had fulfilled his obligation to our country and done so in an exemplary manner. Korean Service Medal w/Bronze Star, United Nations Service Medal, Korean War Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Army Good Conduct Medal are among his decorations.

A volume could be written on Charles V. Pollack after his service to our country, however, space prohibits my doing so. He and his wife, Jane, recently received the Selma Exchange Club’s Book of Golden Deeds Award for their volunteerism and service to the community. I can’t think on any two people more deserving.

Charles V. Pollack is a story of escaping the clutches of Nazi Germany and being given a chance at freedom and life in Selma, Ala.

He took full advantage of the opportunity and has established himself with service to the community, state and nation.

Pollack represents the best of America in patriotism and service to others. What a blessing for America when it welcomed Charles V. Pollack to its shores.

Pollack truly exemplifies the proverb: “Life is God’s gift to man, how he lives it is man’s gift to God.”