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American Legion honors WWII veterans

John Pfulgi, radio operator in the Third Constabulary Regiment stationed in Wetzlar, Germany. Submitted photo1 / 3
Emil Bartylla, of Browerville, Minn., on his graduation from boot camp at the U.S. Navy Training Center at Farragut, Idaho. Submitted photo2 / 3
Henry Kolashinki on his graduation from boot camp and joining the 506th Military Police Battalion. Submitted photo3 / 3

Submitted by Woodbury American Legion Post 501 Public Affairs

Memorial Day is May 27. But what is Memorial Day? To many it is an extra day off work or a weekend to take a trip with the family. But what really is Memorial Day? Memorial Day or Decoration Day originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. Today however, Memorial Day honors all American military personnel who died in all wars.

On Memorial Day, we also have the opportunity to recognize the many veterans who have honorably served our country and thank them for their service. We are especially thankful to our oldest veterans. These veterans of World War II are dying quickly. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, only 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII were alive in 2018. Woodbury American Legion Post 501 is honored to have six living WWII veterans who are members of the post — Emil Bartylla, John Pfulgi, Henry Kolashinki, Paul Esparza, Jane Fee and Walter Merrill. Each of these men and women came from different walks of life and were drafted into various branches of the military and served in many different roles during and after World War II.

This is the story of three of Post 501 members.

Emil Bartylla was born Dec. 24, 1925 in Browerville, Minn. Emil was the son of Polish immigrants and grew up on his family farm.

Emil was drafted into the Navy in 1944. He graduated from boot camp at the U.S. Navy Training Center at Farragut, Idaho, Company 6027, Regiment 1, Battalion 4 later that year. Seaman Bartylla spent the next 21 months aboard the USS California in L Division where he served as the "eyes" of his ship, seeing and reporting any enemy ship or plane before it could be a danger.

The ship displaced 32,300 long tons, was 624-feet long, had 12 14-inch/50-caliber guns as well as 14 5-inch 51-caliber guns and carried a crew of over 1,000 men. This was more people than all of Browerville.

Following his service aboard USS California he transferred to the USS Denver where he administrative and clerical work. Emil was discharged from the Navy in Norfolk, Va. Emil settled in Woodbury in 1956 in the first suburban housing development in Woodbury. He raised his family here and enjoyed wood carving and collecting old die-cast cars.

John Pflugi was born Oct. 8, 1927 in Proctor, Minn., where railroading for the nearby shops and ore classification yards of the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railroad is the main business. In the first half of the 1940s, the women and men working Minnesota's Iron Range produced 338 million tons of iron ore, helping fuel the U.S. war effort in steel.

John was drafted into the Army in November 1945 and served as a radio operator in the Third Constabulary Regiment stationed in Wetzlar, Germany following the end of the war. John arrived in France after transiting the Atlantic on a Troop Ship to Le Havre, France. John said that the thing he remembers most from his time in the service was the level of destruction in France and the total devastation in Germany.

Following the war, John worked for UNISYS, several department stores in TV service and spending 35 years at 3M. John is still an active member in the Woodbury community and still loves carving.

Henry Kolashinski was born April 2, 1925 in New Richmond, Wis., as the eighth of nine children. Henry was drafted in June 1943, but failed the eye exam and was sent home. In November 1943 he was drafted a second time and this time the Army took him. He went through military police training at Fort Custer Training Center in Battle Creek, Mich. After training, he was a guard at Camp Beale, Calif., which served as a German Prisoner of War facility.

Following that assignment, Kolashinki was attached to the 506th Military Police Battalion and was sent to Dinant, Belgium. While in Dinant, Henry was sent to radio school to learn Morse code. Henry's company was sent to Erkelenz, Germany and attached to Gen. George Patton's 7th Army where his company was responsible for traffic control. Following the war, Henry was assigned to what he called a "cushy" job in Camp McCoy, Wis., riding the trains from Mankato to Wisconsin, checking to see if servicemen had proper documentation to be on leave. He separated from the Army in 1946.

Henry returned to Hudson, Wis., and worked a number of odd jobs. Henry moved to Woodbury in April 1969 and has lived in the same house since that time. He and his wife had two children and he has 10 great grandchildren. He is active in the American Legion, his church and continues to have lunch with friends.