By ADRIENNE CRISSMAN
Buzz Altemus of Austintown is not your typical war veteran. Altemus, a Staff Sgt. member of the 151st combat engineers during World War II, recently recalled his time in Europe. Altemus’s story is one of friendship, fate and fortune.
“It was a cold and bitter day, zero degrees, a foot of snow on the ground and more falling to the ground. That is the day I captured a German prisoner.” said Altemus.
The prisoner, Engelbert Pierzyna was A.W.O.L. Altemus had heard him say in English, “I am so glad the war is over for me.”
“He spoke English quite well so we talked while his troops were getting on the truck to go to the P.W. Camp,” said Altemus. Both Altemus and Pierzyna were 18-years-old, drafted to serve in the war for opposing armies.
Shortly after his encounter with Pierzyna, Altemus was wounded by shrapnel and taken to the 108th General Hospital in Paris, where he remained for three weeks.
After being released from the hospital, Altemus was reassigned in Paris. To his surprise, Pierzyna was also assigned to the same job in the same location.
“I can’t describe it,” said Altemus of the two reuniting again. “It was fate.”
The two remained friends, writing letters and exchanging phone calls, up until Pierzyna’s death in 2008.
Meeting Pierzyna wasn’t the only fortunate thing to happen to Altemus in Paris. While in Rainbow Corner, Sergeant Ray McKinney asked to sit down at a vacant seat at Altemus’ table. McKinney, who had taken over the Glenn Miller Band, didn’t have a vocalist for the Christmas season.
“I told him I used to sing in high school and he asked if I wanted an audition. We walked to the piano and I sang ‘At Last.’ He told me, ‘you’re my man.’ For two-and-a-half months I sang with the original Glenn Miller Band in Paris,” said Altemus.
Altemus feels fortunate to have had his experiences.
“I was lucky Ray McKinley chose the chair next to me,” said Altemus. “Pierzyna was just a perfect guy, anybody that knew him, knows he was just a super person.”