Saturday, May 25, 2013

Unknown Soldier (A Tribute)


World War II touched the lives of every family on every street in every town in America. In those exceptional times, ordinary Americans became extraordinary heroes. My father, Samuel F. Satalic (318256*), was one of those extraordinary heroes.


When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my dad immediately went to sign up with the Marines. They rejected him. Then he went to the Army, Navy, Air Force, even the Merchant Marines. Every one rejected him. He was branded 4F because of a heart murmur. My Aunt Wilma told me some years after he died in 1995, "Your dad felt so bad, so dejected back then. He just left our home in Chicago and started roaming." Where he ended up would change the outcome of the war.

As all his friends went off to war, my dad began “booming” around the country, working at the same trade his father Sam Satalic (81552*) knew— ironwork, the skywalkers.  His path eventually led him to a sleepy little area known as Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a place that would forever change the world. But at the time, he wrote back home to his sister (my Aunt Wilma):  “It’s just me and bunch of old men down here.”

At Oak Ridge, he was a top connector, an aerial acrobat risking life and limb bolting the steel structures together. This was no ordinary place, and these were no ordinary structures. Oak Ridge has been called the greatest industrial project in the history of the world. They were going to produce the crucial material for the world’s most fearsome weapon here—the Atomic Bomb. Because of security, my dad had to live on site in barracks, like any other soldier.  The place was so secret even Vice President Truman did not know of its existence until after President Roosevelt had died. They called it the “Secret City,” and it had to be built on time because the Nazis were racing toward their own bomb and an invasion of Japan was looming.

My dad and those crews fought hard against the clock and finished way ahead of schedule. When completed, they were the largest buildings on earth. In them, they produced the high-grade elements necessary for the atomic bomb named “Little Boy.” Germany yielded before it was needed, but not so the Japanese. After they dropped the bombs, the Japanese finally surrendered, and perhaps as many as 500,000 American soldiers came home instead of being slaughtered on the Japanese mainland.

My dad’s iron-working tools, his spuds and sleever bar, became his weapons, more powerful than any rifle he could have ever carried. He never talked about the war years. Like so many others from that generation at Oak Ridge, my dad was one of our unknown soldiers, a truly extraordinary hero.


My dad died in 1995 from mesothelioma, a work-related lung cancer suffered by many ironworkers.
Although I am a writer, I am also a third generation member ironworker in Chicago's Local 1, along with my brother, Anthony Satalic.

* Iron Worker Union membership number


© by Don Satalic 2013


Author's Note—  I opened my latest mystery novel Return of the Falcon with a nod to my dad:

    "The war was finally over. It ended in an orgy of destruction and death unleashed by Fat Man and Little Boy, horrific creations of the new "Atomic Age."
    But it brought our boys home."