As many of you know, May is National Military Appreciation Month honoring the current and former members of the United State Armed Forces. In remembering all those men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, I share this story. The following story is about Edward R. Bartos an entrepreneur long before the word became fashionable becoming The Entrepreneur of His Own Life.
The family was always first with Dad, next was helping others giving back whenever he could. He never spoke those words, but his actions shouted them out to those who knew him well. He spent almost 2 years on the front lines in Europe receiving the Purple Heart with 3 clusters, bronze star, and many more medals of honor. He served as a frontline sergeant with Company G, 179th Infantry, and 45th (Oklahoma) Division as a rifleman and squad leader. He volunteered and entered the Armed Services several months preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbor serving in Europe in some of the deadliest battles of the war. His long military career started in Northern Africa and then onto Sicily, Salerno, and the “Boot” of Italy. As the war raged on in he fought at Anzio, Southern France and ultimately into Germany liberating survivors of the now infamous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. The war had a profound effect on Dad as it did with many men of “The Greatest Generation.” He came home from war with a life of purpose and incredible optimism along with an entrepreneur’s heart and spirit.
Dad’s life can be described in two words charitable and selfless. Throughout my life, I always saw him giving and placing himself second to the ones he loved. Although I did not know him as a young man, I am sure his demeanor and character were much the same then until the time of his passing in 2009. Growing up in the Coal Regions in a little patch of a village known as Atlas, my father always put family first. You see to Dad it was of the highest importance to raise his children to get an education and have the opportunities he was not privileged to experience. I believe one of his greatest prides was the fact that we all attended college.
As a young man, Dad left school after 8th grade opting to get a job on a milk truck to help support his mother and the remaining children of a family of 9, after my grandfather passed away in his mid-40’s of black lung disease. Dad worked locally at various jobs from picking coal, to selling candy at local public events, and then sharing those proceeds with his mother always placing family first. He started out his adult working life toiling for pennies during the Great Depression, joining the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) and then volunteering for the Armed Forces before the beginning of World War II.
Everyone locally knew my Dad as “Kopper,” and he was always involved in local clambakes, and community get-togethers throughout the region. He ran the Atlas American Legion for many years, and later in life, he assisted “Jinx” Sitco in operating the Veterans of Foreign War Post 2110 in Mount Carmel. The positions he held locally created numerous friendships and relationships with many individuals including town leaders. Many a late night my father would close the club and take home a friend that had imbibed a bit too much at the bar. He felt it was his obligation to assure anyone he served alcohol got home safe and sound. These simple acts of friendship made him much beloved, and many a person owed him a debt of gratitude in our town. He did not often talk about such things but when he did, it always put a smile on my face. I remember him telling me about the time he was taking home one of our prominent town leaders who had a little too much to drink. As Dad was going to drop him off at the front door of his house his friend said: “Kopper no, no, no go around the back she’s waiting for me in the front living room with a rolling pin.” Hearing Dad tell this story one had to laugh and could only speculate on whether the rolling pin graphic was just added for a touch of color and amusement for the listener. Either way, it always brought a hearty laugh when he shared this story with others.
In joining the CCCs he traveled all over the United States going from camp-to-camp, always on the move with the rest of the millions of unmarried men in desperate need of employment during the Great Depression. One of his first stops was in Texas to learn how to cook for large companies of men. The vocation of cooking that Dad learned while a member of the CCCs would stay with him all his life and serve him well throughout his long and varied career. When World War II came along Dad started to correspond with the War Department from the CCC camps where he was stationed in hopes of being inducted into the Armed Services. He was only 19 years of age at the time, yet he had a strong desire and passion for serving his country.
Upon my Dad’s passing, I had to go through his personal possessions to prepare the estate. He kept everything in an old steamer trunk covered with stamps and stickers of the towns and states he passed through during his time with the CCCs. Going through Dad’s personal belongings at the time of his passing I was amazed at the many things I did not know about him. One of the most striking items I found was a bundle of letters from the draft board he had received several months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Apparently, he had made repeated requests to the United States military for induction into the Armed Forces. He must have known that the United States was headed for war with Germany but despite this fact, he volunteered to serve in those early years of the war and consequently saw much action in the European Theatre. His many letters and pleadings demonstrating his patriotism and the importance to him of placing his country first.
Dad never spoke much about the war though he did share a few stories with me. One such tale was the time he was hit by a German grenade. His unit was in Italy going through a town home-by-home looking for German snipers when he and a fellow infantryman were coming out of a basement. As he climbed the steps to the street, he was in the lead when he was suddenly struck in the chest by a stick grenade. He pushed his friend backward down into the basement and attempting to follow then nothingness. He awoke a few days later in a field hospital where they patched him up and immediately sent him back to the front lines.
Another story he relayed to me was when he fell deathly ill in a foxhole, the Company had settled down for the night when he came down with the flu and a high fever. The next morning, he did not hear the Commander’s call to move out, still overcome with the flu and exhausted from the long marches of the war. When he later awoke the fever had broken, and he had regained some of his strength, but the Company had moved on in the early morning hours without him. Not knowing which way they went he picked up his rifle and bayonet and marched off by himself in enemy territory in hopes of reconnecting with his unit and fellow soldiers, which fortunately he did a few hours later.
These are just a few examples of my father and his way of viewing the world. He never considered his acts brave or special it was just what he had to do to survive, and so he did it. Dad would be wounded a total of 4 times during the war including another grenade hit and a bullet that literally smashed his nose leaving an indelible scar that would bear testament to his days in the war and the fighting he witnessed. Yet the good Lord saw fit to return him home in one piece to start a family in 1945. What an amazing feat of providence and resolve to return from World War II spending over 500 days on the front lines under constant enemy fire without loss of life or limb!
I never saw Dad complain and he took on everything the world threw at him in stride. Despite the numerous hardships he was dealt. Dad valued his life profoundly and found happiness in the face of adversity, even during his years in the war. Living through the Great Depression and World War II must have had a profound effect on his life, but it never took away his zest for living. It only assured that he lived every moment with a personal passion that showed in his daily life and shared with his family. After returning home from the war, he married my Mom (Frieda), and they raised 4 children together. Edward the oldest, Dan, Dianne, and myself. We never were what I would call wealthy or well off. But Dad made sure we had all the necessities of life like a roof over our heads, clothing on our backs, and full bellies. He would always make sure the holidays were special for us buying whatever presents he could with the pennies he saved, and always a Christmas ham. He took great pride in cooking the ham himself, continuing to use the culinary skills he learned in the CCCs’ and preparing meals for others while surrounding himself with family and the ones he loved.
As far back as I can remember Dad held down three jobs to make these ends meet. He owned his own business (a laundry service), was a steward at the local clubs, and would also work at several manufacturing plants as a machinist after the war. He would only sleep a few hours a day going from one job to the next earning enough money to raise our family. The things my parents did were no different than what hundreds of other families did to make a living during that time period as part of the “The Greatest Generation” returning from war. Dad was a product of his time, believing in the American Dream and the promise it offered to those willing to work hard. If someone would ask me to define what was of the greatest importance to Dad in life, it could be summoned up in three words God, family, and country.
After the war, Dad worked long hours and hustled to own and operate his own businesses from candy vending machines to a laundry service always chasing the American Dream. I remember Dad was not feeling well one day despite being in great physical pain. We all knew he was having discomfort that day but brushed off our appeals to go see a doctor continuing with his regular routines and operating the family business. Finally, my oldest brother Ed who was visiting us on summer break from his teaching position in upstate New York approached Dad to go to the hospital and seek medical attention. As my brother stood there pleading with him, he collapsed from the pain. My brother scooped him up in his arms and had to carry Dad to the car rushing him to the hospital. The result was an emergency appendectomy. That was Dad, always working and making sure that his family had what we needed first considering his own needs second to his family’s.
Dad also did many random acts of kindness throughout his life. He was paying it forward long before we had a term to define it. One act that is most vivid in my mind was on a sweltering summer’s day a young brother and sister were walking down the alley in town; they were in tattered clothes covered from head to toe in coal dust from playing on one of the old breaker banks. As they walked by little wisps of black dust floated up around them like black halos. Dad stopped them and asked their names and reached into his pockets to give them a few coins and told them to buy themselves a cone of ice cream at Maury’s dairy down the street.
That was Dad, he would give you his last penny not thinking anything of it. He knew he could always earn another and that was his philosophy in approaching life. Yet he was a complicated man living through the Great Depression, surviving World War II, and coming home to raise a family. Despite all the hardships he faced growing up in the Depression and being an infantryman in Word World II, Dad never gave up on life or of achieving the American Dream. He came home to live a good life always caring for those around him, raising a family, and creating several small businesses along the way. Those businesses paid the way for all his children to grow up and go onto college to earn degrees making better lives for themselves and achieving their own dreams.
One could say that Dad was the ultimate entrepreneur because he was “The Entrepreneur of His Own Life!” not letting others define him but defining himself by his actions and deeds!
Author: Steve Bartos
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