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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2003 02:20 pm

Veteran’s story teaches every life holds extraordinary moments

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It Was Worth It: The Adventures of a Polish POW in World War II By Kazimir Ladny Published by The World Affairs Council of Central Illinois, Springfield, 2000, 253 pages, $23

Since Sept. 11, 2001, it has become commonplace to see signs outside stores, restaurants, and union halls proclaiming "God Bless America" (often followed by various non sequiturs such as "Fish Fry Friday Night"). But when Kazimir Ladny, at the end of his book about his experiences in World War II as a Polish POW, writes, "God Bless America," the sentiment rings a little truer. Ladny's self-described "adventures" before he settled in Springfield, Ill., put him in a special position to understand just how blessed are the freedoms America affords.

Raised on a small farm in central Poland, Ladny, a member of the Polish reserves, was called to service in March of 1939, just months before Nazi Germany invaded his country. Like most young recruits, Kazimir entered the war enthusiastically. His naiveté soon had to come to grips with the grim realities he and his fellow soldiers faced. Ladny doesn't pull any punches when he describes the horrors he saw. His vivid descriptions of these events, written more than 50 years after they happened, give the reader a real sense of the insanity of combat and the suffering it caused.

It was not the Nazis who took Ladny prisoner, but their allies at the time, the Russians. His destination? Siberia. There, with some 10,000 other unfortunate captives, he would spend many miserable months in what had been a monastery before the revolution. Most of the men had no winter coats. Dysentery and lice were common; clean water a rarity. Unlike many of his compatriots, Ladny survived to tell his tale.

The circumstances that Ladny describes seem so bleak that one wonders how he could title his memoir It Was Worth It. Perhaps he discovered that optimism and faith are more powerful weapons than guns and despair. In the course of his journey, he met his future wife and immigrated to Springfield in 1951, where he worked as a tool and die maker and a clock repairer. Since coming to America, Ladny has lived what most would call an ordinary life. What his story teaches us, however, is that each person's life holds extraordinary moments. Reading his book can be one of them.

 

Copies of Ladny's book are available at Chapter One, 1931 W. Monroe St.

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