HOWLAND, Ohio (WYTV) – The youngest of the heroes who served in World War II are all in their mid- to late-90s. Soon, the voices of the Greatest Generation will be forever silent.
They put their lives on hold and answered our country’s call when it needed them most. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, of the more than 16 million Americans who served in WWII, fewer than 500,000 were still alive in 2018 — well over 19,000 living in Ohio and 26,000 in Pennsylvania.
Locally, many of our WWII veterans are still alive today, willing to share the incredible stories of their service and sacrifice for our country.
This summer during Military Appreciation Night at the Mahoning Valley Scrappers game, Hubbard native Al Kosiba shared part of his story. A few weeks ago, we told you about his bus trip to Washington, D.C. and the support he’s received.
Now, the 99-year-old who currently lives in Howland is sharing more about what he remembers from fighting overseas.
Kosiba can tell you by name and location every training camp and place he was stationed in Europe during his deployment. He served three-and-a-half years overseas in France, England, Belgium and Holland.
“We formed this outfit, 740th AAA Battalion Battery C,” he said.
The cadre was made up of about 120 men. Each were responsible for training in specific job duties.
Kosiba’s specialty was Chief Radar Officer.
“To give you a little idea of what radar is, it’s an instrument used to send out a signal,” he said. “If there’s a metal object in the sky, it would strike that and the signal would come back and we would be able to visibly see it on a little scope. It would show up like a blip.”
Kosiba bounced around to several training camps throughout the U.S. before getting his shipping orders overseas in 1944.
“The ship that we were assigned to looked like a cruise ship,” he said. “This baby was over 600 feet long!”
The trip itself took 14 days.
“What I survived on, I know I lost over 10 pounds. Not that I could afford it at that time,” Kosiba said. “We finally came into a town in England — Cardiff, Wales, a seaport town — pitch black when we boarded the train and headed to a town called Leek.”
From there, the battalion met up with other British unions. Once their boots hit the ground, their mission began — serve as perimeter protection for the 9th Air Force.
“Because the Germans were shooting buzz bombs…it’s a radio-controlled plane with a ton of dynamite,” Kosiba said.
He and his crew were responsible for shooting down the bombs before they exploded. When the Air Force moved, so did the battalion.
At this point, D-Day had already happened and the Battle of the Bulge was upon them, which came near the end of the war.
“There was one day, I’ll never forget it,” Kosiba said. “If you can imagine 3,000 airplanes up in the sky at one time, they were attacking this town in France. Just destroying it, bombing them and everything else. One of the unfortunate things that happened that I learned after is that the frontline troops had a smoke signal to indicate to the pilots, ‘Hey, that’s our troops down there.’ Well, the smoke drifted back this way and we lost a lot of soldiers in that particular incident.”
He said this battle was unlike anything he’d ever seen. Hitler and his men were using tactics no one was used to and the fighting, as well as the gunfire, had intensified.
But when it was all said and done…
“We stopped them at the Battle of the Bulge, and then Patton and his tanks and everything finally got rolling into Germany and once they crossed the Rhine River, it was just a matter of time,” he said.
Germany signed its instrument of surrender on May 8, 1945, ending the war in Europe.
Fast forward a few months, Kosiba and members of the battalion were waiting to see when they would head home or to the Pacific to continue fighting.
“We had sad hearts, to say the least,” he said. “Then President Truman, in August of that year, dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki so the war was over.”
And Kosiba headed home.
“Just in time for Christmas.”
They’re memories of that time he’ll never forget.
“The unity of our country during that wartime, the patriotism and the sacrifices that the people made on the homefront, unbelievable,” Kosiba said. “That’s what we needed in our country today.”
After returning home from the war, Kosiba made a life for himself. He married his wife — they’ve been together 61 years — had four kids and now grandchildren who are the lights of his life.
“I’m lucky to be here,” Kosiba said. “I thank God every day. I have a beautiful wife, a beautiful life, I have a beautiful family.”
He also has a band of brothers that he spends a lot of time with.
“We recognize each other’s contribution to the safety of our country,” Kosiba said. “Unbelievable — we can walk away from each other as if we’ve been together all our lives. That’s how we bond together, it’s unique.”
Over the years, Kosiba has been recognized for his service to our country. Just this summer, he was honored for his role in the liberation of France during the annual D-Day reenactment in Conneaut. He proudly wore the French Legion of Honor medal he received during our interview.
Kosiba said it’s an event everyone should see.
“You’ll get better perspective of what I experienced when we landed and the bow of the ship opened and we drove off.”
Last month, he went on an emotional trip of a lifetime. He was among 70 veterans to complete their latest mission — a bus trip to Washington, D.C. from Pittsburgh. But the Honor Flight is so much more than a sightseeing trip — it’s a salute.
“When you go to Washington and see these — what we paid for, those people who have given their life for this country, for your freedom, my freedom — unbelievable,” Kosiba said.
He lives by one simple message that we all need to hear every once in a while.
“Find out what you want to do in life and do it to the best of your ability. If you make a mistake, OK, try another routine or something else because it’s your life. What you do with it is up to you.”