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Ordinary and unheralded, these men were heroes

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September 01, 2015 | 01:08 PM
Pfc. Joseph Donat Armand Boucher and Sgt. Albert Kosiek were young men who heeded their country’s call during World War II.

They were also heroes.

Boucher and Kosiek were among the tens of thousands of men beneath the pins pushed into maps of Europe that showed their bloody progress against the forces of the Nazi Empire.

And then, in spring 1945, the pins they were under pierced the walls of hell at places called Buchenwald and Mauthausen.

Private Boucher and Sgt. Kosiek were at the very point of those pins.

What made them heroes is that they did their duty with decency and honor. Even, and especially, when they disobeyed orders.

After the war, Boucher and Kosiek returned home, Boucher to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and Kosiek to Chicago.

They married, raised families, and led productive, post-war lives.

While generals and admirals wrote self-hagiographic autobiographies about how they “won” the war, these men hardly ever talked about what they saw or did during their time in Europe.

I have had the humbling honor of crossing paths with both of these heroes. Sadly, they had both passed on before I knew of them.

But their families lovingly and conscientiously preserved their life histories

The hero I most recently crossed paths with was Albert Kosiek, whose eldest son, Larry Kosiek owns a summer home in Geneva National.

Sgt. Albert Kosiek has a memorial at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Museum. He is also memorialized in the book “Born Survivors” by English author Wendy Holden. By disobeying orders and diverting his 22-man platoon to the main Mauthausen camp, Kosiek was directly responsible for saving the lives of three infants born in the camp and their mothers.

On the Internet, there is a picture of Kosiek riding on the M5 light tank that accompanied his platoon into the camp. He is surrounded by many of the 40,000 prisoners he helped liberate.

Less known is Pfc. Boucher who served in the 159th Engineer Combat Battalion, a very small part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.

Boucher, who was of French-Canadian extraction, came to my attention 20 years ago when I was working for the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette.

Roger and Priscilla Dorsett of Urbana called the newspaper in March 1995, saying that they were in possession of never-before-seen photos of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Boucher was stationed near the city of Erfurt in central Germany near the end of the war. Something of a shutterbug, Boucher carried a Brownie camera, taking pictures of buddies and the places they were stationed.

On April 11 or 12, 1945, Boucher loaded a roll of 25 exposures in his Brownie. The first is a touristy shot of Erfurt.

The next 24 pictures were of emaciated bodies both alive and dead. Bodies piled on the backs of trucks, bodies piled alongside buildings and a partially-burned body inside an open crematorium. Also in the photos are the young-old faces of American soldiers, looking shocked and saddened by what they saw.

Boucher was one of the first U.S. servicemen to enter Buchenwald. Being fluent in French, Army officers used him as an interpreter.

The first photo he took at Buchenwald was that of a group of American medics walking toward the Buchenwald gate, which carried the camp motto: “Jedem das Seine,” meaning To Each His Own, or, more ominously, To Each What He Deserves.

Some of the photos are out-of-focus. Some are blurred by a hand shaking from what was revealed through the viewfinder.

“It was something he never talked about,” Priscilla Dorsett said of her father. Words that would be echoed 20 years later by Larry Kosiek, when he talked of his father’s experience at Mauthausen.

Roger Dorsett said Army officers demanded that all photographs of what was in the camp be turned over to military authorities. For whatever reason, Boucher hid his roll of film, mailing them home to his wife, Irene, from Brussels, Belgium.

He kept the film in a shoebox, afraid that if he had them developed he’d get in trouble. But about 30 years after sending the photos home, Boucher had the film developed and shared them with his son-in-law Roger.

During our meeting 20 years ago, Roger Dorsett said the pictures are irrefutable photographic proof of Nazi atrocities.

“I heard people are saying this never happened,” he said during that interview. “Well, I have the pictures. These are not government pictures. These are pictures taken by my father-in-law.”

When the family called the newspaper in 1995, they were hoping to share the photos with a museum, perhaps the holocaust museum in Skokie, Illinois.

However, in a recent telephone interview, Priscilla Dorsett said that although she personally would like to give the photos to a museum, because of an interfamily dispute, they’re still stored in a shoebox, the same receptacle they were in when I was granted the privilege of seeing them 20 years ago.

Dorsett also shared some additional information about her father. Boucher was raised in an orphanage in Boston.

He was living in New Hampshire, working in a grocery store and learning to be a printer when the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

After the war, Boucher had a choice of moving to Washington, D.C. to work for the U.S. mint printing money, or going to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, to work in the Univeristy of Illinois printing office.

Dorsett said that her father fell in love with the Champaign-Urbana area and moved there.

He worked in the university printing office for 30 years. He died in 1977 at the age of 65, Dorsett said.


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