Each of the 116, 516 US soldiers, Marines and sailors killed during WWI deserve a narrative on the world wide web. In this case, a photo of Edward Prochaska of Silver Lake, MN recently arrived in the mail from an eBay seller in the Midwest. I purchased the photo after doing some brief research on the photo, finding that Prochaska was killed in action while serving with the 118th Infantry, 30th Division.
Incredibly, Prochaska is referenced heavily in a postwar book following the exploits of Private Oscar Dahlgren during WWI. The full text version of the book can be found here: http://bit.ly/1bSx4h9
Some excerpts from the book are incredibly detailed and give us a unique view into the experiences of a doughboy on the frontlines.
“In the evening of this day (August 4th, 1918), we started for the front line trenches carrying with us rations. Myself and Prochaska toted a bag of coffee together changing off with other when tired. Getting on the road just east of Valencies, we got caught in a shelling that Jerry put over on the roads every day at Valencies toward evening. The big shells dropped so close that we expected to be blown to pieces for every shell. We threw ourselves flat, favoring the fall. Luckily, my platoon got through the shelling without any casualties, except for a bag scare. I could tell how bad when I noted how extremely pale they all got. It struck me so funny that I wanted to laugh. Ed Prochaska noticed it too, and felt kind of ashamed saying he could laugh at death grinning us in the face.”
“Again between August 26th and 27th Prochaska was with me when another heavy shelling took place. The trench here was shot up bad so there was little protection. A heavy shell tore into the bank behind our backs. We both flopped down with pan. I said it felt like my fingers had been shot off, but I found all my fingers there.”
“It was dark and rainy as we walked up the line we had to step over German dead who were lying thick around there (sic) holes they had made in the ground. When we halted we took into those holes which weren’t very deep. The hole I got wasn’t more than a foot deep. Schellenburger got to be my partner. 4 or 5 dead Germans lay dead by my hole. Prochaska was close by digging in together with R.L. Ross, we not set to work and dug our hole 4 feet deep and wide enough to stretch out.”
“Someone caught sight of one coming towards us from Company Headquarters. He was already half ways and now there was some hollering for him to get down, especially by the sergeant. It turned out to be Prochaska. Poor boy – they had him pretty nervous before he came up. He did not know we weren’t allowed to cross now……… They asked him what he meant by coming over…… He told them he had been at the canteen having bought some cakes, cookies and a can of salmon saying I wanted to bring Dahlgren some! ……. It touched my heart that he had so much friendship and love for me – he thought so much of me.”
And the sad details leading up to Edwards death:
“I stopped to talk to Prochaska who had dug in deep by himself and was carrying straw to bed down with. I and he had always dug in together before, but now as I was a runner, we were parted. Well, he did not get used to his foxhole as he was put on guard at Company Headquarters where I was. There in the hedges he slept when off guard, that being the last time I talked with him. That night, though I had a warm bed, I was not able to sleep as the cooties and German fleas started going over the top and giving me no peace……
After getting through the hedge and the wire fence which separated us from the field, we noticed an observation balloon. We had a funny feeling something terrible was in store for us. My heart made a few quick beats and I felt pale. All of us runners said to the Captain that it would be suicide to cross the field……. I noticed dozens of Americans lying on the railroad bank killed and the rails lay twisted up…….. We now got to talk to some men of the 128th Regiment who said the same thing happened to them at Brancourt…… The first I got across, one of the boys called me and said, “Prochaska, Dahlgren is killed.” He had out names mixed up. The boys were lying close to Prochaska told me his head and shoulder were knocked off by a shell. He had been my best friend for a long time……”