Less than two months before Pearl Harbor, William Kadar joined the U.S. Army at the request of Uncle Sam.
By the end of World War II, he was sharing the inhospitality of the German army.
According to a biography put together by his granddaughter Arleen Haas, of Crown Point, the 21-year-old Kadar began his basic training in Texas before going to Arkansas for noncommissioned officer training, earning the rank of tech sergeant. During this time, he also married Arleen, Hass' grandmother, after she finally gave in to his frequent proposals in letters.
He didn't land in France until Sept. 3, 1944, and was among a group of tech sergeants ordered to join the 36th Division. In November, he and his company were the first Americans to arrive in Bruyere, France, where he and a fellow noncommissioned officer led a tank on foot across a bridge suspected of being mined.
Shortly after that, Kadar received a serious back injury while riding in the back of a truck that hit a mine. Although his doctors recommended he not return to the line, he was told to report for one day because he was needed. Then he would be sent home, he was told.
He was sent to the front lines in Mittelwihr, France, on Dec. 14, and he and his company took shelter in a building. They didn't know a group of German soldiers already occupied it. A tank hit the building, crumbling the wall, so the commander got on the radio to demand help. The call revealed their position to the Germans, who opened fire.
With no way out, the company was taken prisoner. On Christmas Eve, he and the other POWs were marched 30 miles and then had to sleep in a cold storage house. The men huddled together to stay warm and sleep, but, in the morning, some of the men did not wake up. The survivors spent Christmas marching another 31 miles.
"They marched at night on the outer part of towns on smaller roads," Haas' account states. "He recalled helping comrades stay walking because they would otherwise be shot."
They reached Hammelburg, Germany, on Jan. 23, 1945, the site of Stalag XIIIC, where the guards were older, some disabled, World War I veterans. Kadar said most of them were nice to the prisoners, but the stalag had no showers and the men had to sleep on hay. The toilets were fenced-in or walled-in holes in the ground.
"He and other prisoners would volunteer to get wood so they could gather wood chips for warmth," Haas said. "There was no heat. He had to bury about four American POWs, who died of starvation. Many were trading food for cigarettes. Not my grandfather. His determination never allowed him to give up or imagine himself dying there.
"He held a meeting with the other men and put an end to the trading. If they traded food again, the other prisoners would shave their head and the head of the person who traded with them."
On April 1, the POWs were put on trains for Nuremburg with other POWs. When the train was attacked by allied planes, the prisoners got off, and Kadar ordered them to spell "POW" with their bodies on the ground. The firing stopped, and the prisoners had to march the rest of the way to Nuremburg. The trek took weeks, with the men helping each other to keep moving to avoid being shot.
Kadar's last POW stop was Moosburg, Germany, at Stalag VII A, which housed prisoners from all over the world. Although fenced in, they would sneak through the fence to dig potatoes in a nearby field to eat. Finally, on April 29, the camp was liberated by Patton's army.
Kadar was flown to Reims, France, and, on June 1, was sent back to the U.S. by boat, the end of his "one day" of service. He told his grandchildren of sleeping in the lifeboats because "they were more comfortable."
Kadar's wife died last year, and his family is hoping he will be chosen for an Honor Flight to go to Washington, D.C., to visit the WWII Memorial. The trip is free for the veteran and a family member or sponsor. Kadar, of Merrillville, also has been interviewed for the Library of Congress' oral history of veterans.
"For years after the war he wouldn't talk about it, but at one point he finally opened up," Haas said. "He's our hero, and we've always tried to honor him."