WWII veteran speaks: How he escaped the Nazi's and moved to Milwaukee

WWII veteran speaks: How he escaped the Nazi’s and moved to Milwaukee

"About the men and women who didn't make it... about my friends who I left behind," said Joe Marek.

92-year-old Korean War veteran, Joe Marek, has a special way of paying his respects to veterans.

"This is my treasure," said Marek, pointing to his Army uniform.

Marek irons out his 65-year-old U.S. Army uniform and wears it around his senior living complex all day on Veterans Day, and not on any other day.

"Nope. Just Veterans Day and he wears it the entire day," said Kelly Herda, The Activities Director at Elizabeth Residence.

But this American veteran's story goes deeper than this uniform.

"In 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. September 1st, 1939. On the second day of September, we were already under German occupation. We were so close to the border," said Marek.

When the Germans invaded Polish-born Marek's hometown in the southwest corner of the country, he was forced to fight for the Nazi's.

"When I turned 18, March 1943, I was drafted to the German Army. There were 130,000 Poles drafted from western Poland," said Marek.

When the Allied Forces invaded France, where he was stationed, in 1944, Marek risked his life to run from the German Army.

"There was one day we went through a farmer's yard, and there was a pig sty," said Marek. "Myself, another Polish man and one German soldier, we got into it, closed it up, and waited for the Allied Forces to come. Four hours later I heard a different language, I got out, hands up..."

Marek was brought to England, and within weeks he signed up to fight for the Polish Army -- this time against the Nazi's.

After World War II, Marek didn't go back to a communist Poland. He had an uncle living in Milwaukee, so Marek decided to immigrate to America in 1949, where he again, was fitted into a uniform.

"Seven months later, the Korean war broke out and I was the first bunch of draftees to be sent to Korea," said Marek.

After the war, he became an American citizen and he settled in the Milwaukee area, where Marek helped establish the Polish Center of Wisconsin.

"He didn't get more than 8th-grade education, but he's quite possibly the smartest man I've ever encountered -- self-taught English when we do trivia or anything like that everyone wants Joe on their team because he knows all the answers. He is a very well read, smart man. The thing that gives him the most joy and pride is that his children got that education. His son went to Harvard. That's pretty impressive," said Herda.

"That was just an unreal thing. He graduated went to law school," said Marek, who states his son was 2 years apart from President Obama during his time at Harvard. His daughter is in business.

Marek says he would also wear his Polish uniform, but it got lost during his time in Korea.

"It's a sign of his pride as an immigrant coming here and living the American dream and fighting for his country. He kept that uniform; it's the way he shows respect for his country," said Herda.

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