Valley veteran recalls adventure as Polish paratrooper

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Adam Jan Baran, 100, rose out of his chair, standing tall in the Polish paratrooper uniform he wore during World War II – yes, it still fits – fighting for Poland in Italy and England.

Clearly proud of his service in the Polish Army, Baran, formerly of Dewey Avenue in Youngstown and now of New Springfield, was a guest of honor at a recent showing of a traveling Polish Heritage Exhibit about the war at Youngstown State University’s William F. Maag Jr. Library.

The poster board exhibit provided a pictorial synopsis of Norman Davies’ book, “Trail of Hope,” that tells the story of how the Polish Army, known as Anders Army, was formed on Soviet soil and gained a reputation as a tough, well-trained fighting outfit during the Italian Campaign and the 1944 Battle of Monte Cassino.

Asked if he was a member of Anders Army, the highly-decorated Baran said “no,” and pointed to the paratrooper badge among other ribbons and insignia attached to his uniform.

Baran did say he believes that Gen. Wladyslaw Anders, of Anders Army fame, helped form Polish Squadron No. 303, one of several Polish units fighting under British command as part of the Royal Air Force.

Squadron No. 303, in which Baran was a paratrooper, was one of the highest-scoring Hurricane squadrons during the Battle of Britain.

“Had it not been for the magnificent ... Polish squadrons, and their unsurpassed gallantry,” wrote Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of RAF Fighter Command, “I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle of Britain would have been the same.”

Most of the interview with Baran, who speaks very little English, was done with the help of translators, Stanley Radomski and his wife, Josie, of Boardman.

Baran’s son, Ed Baran, of Boardman, also provided information – although he said his father worked most of the time and did not talk much about the war to him and his siblings.

Adam Jan Baran was born Nov. 21, 1918, in Altoona, Pa., making him an American citizen. But his parents moved back to Poland when he was 2, eventually involving him in WWII as a member of the Polish military.

The Polish military, under difficult conditions and basically without a country, made itself into fighting units that became a thorn in the sides of the Germans and Russians and the Italians.

Also, in September 1944 the 1st Airborne took part in Operation Market Garden in which the division, temporarily attached to the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade, landed 60 miles behind German lines, to capture crossings on the River Rhine, and fought in the Battle of Arnhem.

After failing to achieve its objectives, however, the division was surrounded and took very heavy casualties, but held out for nine days before the survivors were evacuated, according to reports.

Locally, the elder Baran was a member and past president of Krakusy Chapter Polish Legion of American Veterans and was a member of Youngstown St. Stanislaus Church.

“He never talked much about the war with us kids. Maybe with friends when they got together, but not with us,” Ed Baran recalled. “I didn’t really know my dad until I was out of high school.”

Part of it may have been that dad was a hard worker and he was gone much of the time, said Ed.

“He had two full-time jobs all his life, working at Republic Steel in Youngstown for 30 years and many years at U.S. Extrusion Tool and Die in Girard at the same time. Also, he and his friends did roofing and concrete projects and any other odd jobs they could get,” said Ed.

Adam and his wife of 69 years, Janina, who died in 2014, had four boys and a girl, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

After the war, Baran brought his family to Youngstown. Ed said he is not certain why his father made that choice, though it was probably because there was work in the steel mills.

“My mom and dad had married in Germany – he was 26 and she was 16. The war was ending and they wanted to come to America,” said Ed.

“They spoke Polish, but they also made it a point to speak English at home. They wanted us to learn the language of our new country,” Ed said.

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