W. Thomas Smith, Jr

In April 1945 Nazi Germany was on the ropes (Hitler would in fact put a bullet in his brain on April 30), and a half-starved 19-year-old Polish prisoner-of-war, Ryszard Kossobudzki, had escaped his Nazi captors and was making his way — however precariously — toward Allied lines.

He was not alone.

With him were approximately 60 comrades, many of whom — like Kossobudzki — were former Polish resistance fighters. They had no way of knowing their danger was lessening. In fact, all they knew was that they had escaped certain death. Their soon-to-be-defeated enemy was desperate and regularly committing summary executions of recaptured POWs. And they were deep behind enemy lines.

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At one point during their trek away from the POW camp, a warplane flew low above the forest from which they were seeking cover-and-concealment. At first the men believed they had been discovered by the Luftwaffe. But fear turned to rejoicing when instead of the infamous black cross on the plane’s fuselage, they saw the bright white star of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

The men and boys were furthered heartened when the pilot upon spotting them dropped a chocolate bar (surely a Hershey’s in 1945) with a note wrapped around it. The note was simple — and I paraphrase — “Go 15 miles west to American lines and freedom.”

They did. They were saved. And young Kossobudzki made his way to America, eventually becoming an American citizen, changing his name (as so many did in that era) to Richard Roger Cosby.

Cosby’s yet-to-be-born daughter — three-time Emmy award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author, Rita Cosby — related this story and other accounts of her father’s wartime service during last week’s Women Honoring Valor luncheon at the Columbia (S.C.) Convention Center.

Cosby spoke not only of her father’s heroism, but of the service and sacrifice of the heroes in attendance — Medal of Honor recipients Col. Charles P. Murray, Jr. (U.S. Army, Ret.), Lieutenant Michael E. Thornton (U.S. Navy SEALs, Ret.), and Master Sergeant John F. Baker, Jr. (U.S. Army, Ret.) — as well as those who continue to wear the uniform.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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