Vet pieces together WWII story
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org July 4, 2012 7:38PM
Frank Barbaric, 88, of Chicago's Mount Greenwood community, talks about his service during World War II. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
“He said to me, ‘I’d give my right arm to be back on 63rd and Ashland.’ ”
Frank Barbaric, World War II veteran
Updated: August 6, 2012 12:17PM
If there’s no such thing as coincidence, if everything really does happen for a reason, Frank Barbaric wonders why he still is at a loss for an explanation.
It’s been nearly 70 years since he was injured in World War II. Time has brought the Purple Heart recipient more pieces to life’s puzzle but no apparent reason those parts fell into the places they did.
“It’s all so weird,” he said.
Barbaric is among the 62 remaining graduates of Tilden Tech’s Class of 1942. The majority of the 667 students at the then-all-male high school on the South Side went on to serve their country. At class reunions over the years, the men have reconnected and shared stories. Most recent, they convened at Nikos Restaurant in Bridgeview for their 70th and final get-together.
Among the more compelling tales are the ones Barbaric tells.
“That was the first I’d heard of a place called Anzio,” Barbaric said while chatting recently in the kitchen of his home in the Mount Greenwood community, where he lives with his son, Frank. “I was among about 500 soldiers who were shipped in shortly after the initial invasion.”
When they arrived on the rainy, Italian coast in March 1944, the men were lined up. Officers began calling out names and assigning soldiers to outfits. When he heard the name Joseph Connelly, Barbaric’s ears perked up.
Connelly, who lived two doors down from Barbaric in the Armour Square neighborhood, was standing just 15 feet in front of him. After the briefing, they talked about things back home.
“He said to me, ‘I’d give my right arm to be back on 63rd and Ashland,’ ” Barbaric said.
Connelly later suffered a serious injury to his right arm.
As they chatted, Connelly told Barbaric that there was another man from the neighborhood among them — a red-haired guy with the last name of Clohessy. Though they hailed from the same area, Barbaric said this was the first time he’d met Clohessy, who was about 10 years older.
That was the last he’d see of him, as well.
A few weeks into his stint at Anzio, Barbaric and another soldier became lost after returning from a supply run. It was after 8 p.m., and the Germans had begun their nightly shelling of the Allied compound. With Barbaric’s foxhole nowhere in sight, the two men banged at the door of an American command post and begged for shelter. They were told the post already was overcrowded and turned away.
He remembers a deafening blast that lifted his body four feet. It wasn’t until the next day that he discovered he’d been hit with shrapnel in his left ankle and right hip. He was taken to the field hospital, where he learned the command post that had denied him entrance the previous night had taken a direct hit. All but one of the seven men inside were killed.
“The only survivor was the radio man,” Barbaric said.
Barbaric suffered a subsequent case of trench foot (severe frostbite) and was sent to Bagnoli, Italy, for treatment. There, he befriended a doctor who offered some career counseling.
“I had planned to become a lawyer,” Barbaric said. He’d even studied a year at Wright College before being drafted into the Army. “But this doctor said I should become a podiatrist.”
Not only would Barbaric be able to relate to his patients, having endured so much foot pain, the doctor told him podiatry was an up-and-coming field.
After being discharged, Barbaric looked it up and ended up enrolling in an accelerated program in Chicago. Shortly after the war ended, he opened his first office at 61st and Ashland.
It was not unusual for patients to chat about the war.
“One day this Irish lady comes in. She was sad, told me her son had been killed at Anzio,” Barbaric said. They talked some more and the woman pulled out a photograph.
“It was the red-haired Clohessy, the guy Joe Connelly introduced me to,” Barbaric said. “I’d never seen the guy near 63rd and Ashland. I’d only met him on Anzio.”
An even stranger moment came 30 years later when a man came in with a serious toe infection. As Barbaric was treating him, the man continuously asked questions about the war.
“I was getting annoyed. It had been 30 years, and this guy was giving me the third degree,” he said.
Finally, after realizing the guy had served in Anzio with the 5th Army, 45th Division, 179th Regiment, H Company, Barbaric asked him to tell his story. Turned out, the guy was the radio man, the sole survivor of the blast on the command post.
“I never saw him again,” Barbaric said. “And to this day I don’t know why he came to my office that one time. It’s all so weird.”
Barbaric, a widower who also has a daughter and two grandsons, wonders if maybe the incident simply offered closure on a painful chapter in his life. Or was there a greater, higher significance to all these coincidences?
“All I know is it’s a crazy, small world,” he said. “I still shake when I think about it.”