Edward Sakasitz, of Northampton County, had been a U.S. citizen who was raised in Austria and served in the German army during World War II. In his mid-80s now, he was cheerful and said friends had suggested he tell his story to The Morning Call, and would I be interested in interviewing him.
Of course I was, so on Feb. 5 of that year I sat down with him at his home in Nazareth for the first time. His story ran in two parts, on March 4 and 5, and later I included it in my 2011 book, War Stories: In Their Own Words.
Eddie and I got to be friends. He and his wife, Catherine, and I would have breakfast from time to time at the Valley View Diner near Nazareth. And we would sit together at luncheon meetings of the Lehigh Valley Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Eddie had been invited to join the group after his account ran in the paper. He would call me if he couldn’t make it to a meeting. He was forever grateful that the American veterans had accepted him.
I saved every Christmas card he sent, every postcard he sent from the many trips back to his homeland that he and Catherine had taken.
Always eager to talk about his wartime experiences, Eddie would tell them over and over – always with the same details told excitedly in the exact same order and with a sense of wonder and amazement. The Wehrmacht soldiers had a saying, he liked to tell me with a laugh: We lost the First World War, we’ll win this one too. He explained that they couldn’t be defeatist, they couldn’t be heard saying they were going to lose the second war.
In 2008, after seeing my story on Eddie, German army re-enactors honored Eddie during the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend at Reading Regional Airport. They gave him a glass-covered memory box containing medals, a service ribbon and an insignia patch for his rank. All replicas, the medals included one to signify he’d been wounded in battle and an Iron Cross for bravery.
Eddie’s health began to spiral last year. In early December I visited him at Easton Hospital and sensed it would be the last time I’d see him. It was. He died Dec. 30 at age 93. His family asked me to do a reading from Liturgy at his funeral Mass, which my wife, Mary, and I attended, and I was honored to oblige.
Eddie had lived a remarkable life. He had been incredibly lucky to survive World War II, and often reminded me of that. His story is so compelling, I’d like to summarize it here in a timeline. Here goes:
EDDIE SAKASITZ’S PATH
July 10, 1920: He’s born in Nazareth, Pa., but two months later his mother returns to the place of her birth, the Burgenland province of eastern Austria, to live on her father’s farm, taking baby Eddie along. Eddie’s father, older brother and three sisters remain in Nazareth.
1920-39: Eddie grows up in village of Fladnitz, Austria, 24 miles southeast of Graz. His mother dies when he is 12, and he is raised by her sister and works on her farm, also in Fladnitz.
1940: He serves in Reichsarbeitsdienst, a pre-military work service, and is drafted into German army, the Wehrmacht. He gets basic training at Bregenz am Bodensee, in Austria on Swiss border. He is a Gefreiter, or private, and later an Obergefreiter, private first class.
January 1941: His antitank battalion, Panzerjaeger Abteilung 85, part of the Wehrmacht’s 5th Gebirgs (Mountain) Division, leaves base near Zell am See in Austria’s Salzburg province. Unit heads east, goes through Graz and across Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria (through capital, Sofia) and Macedonia.
April 1941: He arrives in northern Greece, at town of Thessaloniki. His unit moves south, pursuing British and New Zealand troops, and reaches Athens. For a while, it’s based at village in Phaleron, south of Athens.
May 1941: The Panzerjaegers board a ship at Pireas, southeast of Athens, and arrive on Crete at Hania, in northern and western part of island. They move east along coast to port of Iraklio, in middle of island.
December 1941: Eddie’s unit leaves Crete and returns to Athens, then goes north through Macedonia and Yugoslavia. Ultimately, the “tank hunters” reach their Austrian base at Zell am See, where they regroup.
January 1942: They leave Zell am See by train and cross Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and enter Russia.
February 1942: The Panzerjaegers disembark at Krasnovardeisk, southeast of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and take Leningrad-Moscow highway to Volkhov, east of Leningrad and below Lake Ladoga. They move around in that area every few weeks.
September 1942: His unit battles Russians at village of Sinyavino.
January 1944: The Panzerjaegers board a train at Krasnoyeselo, south of Leningrad. After six-week train ride, they arrive at Frosinone, south of Rome. American bombardment drives them north to Pisa and across Po River to Verona. They go west through Brescia, Milan and Turin.
Nov. 29, 1944: Eddie is machine-gunned in legs, apparently by Canadian soldiers, while riding a motorcycle near Saluzzo, south of Turin. He is sent to a German field hospital near Turin.
December 1944: He is transferred to a hospital in Milan area. By April 1945, he can walk with crutches.
April 1945: He and other German wounded take a train from Milan to Switzerland, where they are interned as war ends. Near Lugano, a doctor removes damaged bone from Eddie’s left leg. Eddie is transferred to a Zurich hospital, where he stays for about a month. Then he is sent to Lyss and lives in barracks.
December 1945: He goes home to Austria by train and settles again in Fladnitz. He works as a diesel engine mechanic and also drives trucks and buses. In 1949, he moves to Ehrenhausen in Austria, near Yugoslavian border, where he meets and marries his first wife, Anna Roy.
August 1953: He is notified by American Embassy in Salzburg that he has been granted a passport after seeking one with the help of his father since 1947.
Nov. 26, 1953: After sailing from Naples on new but ill-fated liner Andrea Doria, he arrives on Thanksgiving Day in New York harbor, where he is greeted by his siblings. His father had recently died, so Eddie never met him. Eddie settles in Nazareth. Six months later, his wife and daughter Renata come from Austria to join him, but the child dies of an illness at age 5. Eddie works as a machinist at Easton Box Co. for many years, retiring in 1985. He and Anna have another daughter, Cindy.
Jan. 12, 1986: Anna dies.
April 9, 1989: Eddie marries Catherine Inhoff Wolf, whose husband had died.
Dec. 30, 2013: Eddie dies in St. Luke’s Hospice, Bethlehem, at age 93. He is buried in Holy Family Cemetery, Nazareth, on Jan. 3, 2014.