By Todd Blomerth
George was the son of Joe and Anatolia (Urbanski) Zaleski. George was born on February 21, 1932 in the Polonia Community, north of Lockhart. He was the fourth of five children. The others were Lillian, Jim, George, and Johnnie.
The Polonia community was settled by Polish immigrants in the 1880s. At one time the small community boasted two schools, Sacred Heart Catholic Church (razed in 1939), the Levandowski cotton gin, a blacksmith shop, and a general store. The Polonia area did not have electricity until 1948, when the Rural Electric Administration, at the urging of Lyndon Johnson, brought power lines into the area.
The family spoke Polish in the home as the boys were growing up. School attendance was not seen as a major priority – the family was farming, and putting food on the table was of paramount importance. George attended school only through the sixth grade at a rural school in Polonia north of Lockhart. That school would be consolidated with Lockhart in 1949. The boys’ diversions usually involved swimming in the nearby creek.
George enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after Infantry Basic Training he also completed Airborne training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Eventually he was assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment (“The Wolfhounds”) of the 25th Infantry Division. The 25th Infantry Division had been in Korea since 1950. This was (and is) a proud unit. Its lightning bolt imposed over a taro leaf shoulder patch reflects its Hawaiian heritage. Before World War II, it was known as the Hawaiian Division and its home was Oahu’s Schofield Barracks. It saw action at Guadalcanal, the Philippines and elsewhere during the Pacific Campaign. It was hurriedly deployed to the Korean Peninsula, and helped defend the Pusan perimeter, then fought along the Iron Triangle in 1951. Subsequently its main duties were defending the many defensive line’s fortifications along the UN’s Main Line of Resistance.
On July 8, 1951, truce talks began at Kaesong. The process was glacial, and the North Koreans periodically walked away from the table. The front was stabilized, but vicious fighting continued. United Nations forces were compelled to go on the offense to de-stabilize huge build ups of People’s Republic of China (PRC, or communist Chinese) and North Korean weaponry and personnel, and to compel the communists to return to the negotiating table. Personal histories later found indicated that the communists eventually became desperate and dispirited. As the grind of outpost warfare went on, one NKPA general’s captured correspondence showed his frustration with the UN’s willingness and ability to keep providing men and weaponry to the South.
The USSR’s Joseph Stalin’s death on March 2, 1953 proved a game changer for the Korean and Chinese communists (NKPA and PRC). The ensuing power struggle and change of focus meant that the USSR would no longer continue to supply the NKPA and Chinese with weaponry and supplies. On April 26, 1953 the stalled armistice negotiations resumed. Despite this, heavy fighting flared along the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), as the NKPA and PRC tried to improve their positions. The last major attacks by the communists were mostly aimed at ROK positions, as the South Korean strongman Sygman Rhee’s continued voicing of his opposition to a divided Korean peninsula.
The 25th Infantry Division was tasked with defending the South Korean capital of Seoul when the last communist attempt at breaking the UN line north of Seoul began in May, 1953. It front was on the extreme left of the UN front, near Munsan-ni. Very strong attacks were directed against the South Korean capital, but were turned back.
PFC Zaleski was killed north of Seoul on May 14, 1953. On June 8, 1953 the warring parties reached an agreement on repatriation of prisoners of war. On July 19, 1953, a truce agreement was reached and was signed on July 27, 1953. With losses in the millions, the North Koreans lost 1500 square miles of territory.
The Final Truce Line – July 1953 (map by Ernie Holden)
George is buried next to his mother and father in the Polonia Cemetery. George was twenty-one years old.
(Polonia schoolhouse photo appeared in Caldwell County Genealogical Society’s Plum Creek Almanac Vol. 32, No. 2, Fall 2014)