Frank Soboleski: "Hard to Adjust"
Frank Soboleski of International Falls, Minnesota served in the 101st Airborne in the European Theatre of Operations during World War II. In a 2001 interview with Thomas Saylor, Mr. Soboleski remembered the end of the war, and coming home.
FS: After the war with Japan was over [in August 1945]. Our outfit, or unit, we were going to march down Fifth Avenue [in New York City]. I came back with the 82nd Airborne; the 101st, there wasn't enough people to be an organization - we didn't even make up a regiment, and that's only one-fourth of a division. So I took my eagle off this shoulder [points to left shoulder] and put it over here [motions to right shoulder], and then double AA, 82nd Airborne.
TS: Were you part of one of those postwar parades?
FS: Yes, I went down Fifth Avenue, or Eighth Avenue. We marched twelve miles that day.
TS: When was that, [January] 1946?
TS: What was that like, the parade?
FS: [Pauses] It was grueling.
TS: You mentioned that by early 1945 things had really slowed down for your unit, and you were finding recreation, things to do. You stayed in Austria and Germany until the end of 1945, came back and were in a parade in New York in January 1946—that’s the letter [official letter testifying to Frank’s participation in the parade] you showed me—and then you were discharged. What was your initial reaction to being out of the military?
FS: It was a letdown. You know, like you had just lost your best friend or something. Everything was so dull and quiet and monotonous. Civilian life, the way of life back in the U.S., it was so slow, and you just had to shift down.
TS: So it definitely was a change, then, to being a civilian again?
FS: Such a slower pace of life, it was hard to adjust to.
TS: Did you come straight back to International Falls after you were discharged?
TS: How was it to see your family again after several years?
FS: It had changed so much, I had a hard time adapting to them. Everybody was different; most of them were gone.
TS: How were they different?
FS: Well, my mother and father were old people by then. When I left he was full of vitality, and she was . . . It was just hard to adjust to it, because apparently they were...
TS: You detected that your parents aged more in a couple of years than you might have thought?
FS: It just seemed like a whole different world; everybody was old and slow. I was used to a pretty fast pace in life, and it was just hard to adjust to it, to fit in. I just felt like an outsider; I didn't belong there. I was from Mars or some place. [Pauses] I had a hard time.
TS: If you had to identify it, what was it that made it difficult for you to readjust?
FS: You felt like you didn't belong or you didn't have a space in civilian life. Actually, you felt like you didn't want a part of it.
TS: Did you consider staying in the Army or going back to the Army?
FS: No. The reason for that was Army life overseas was pretty loose. When we came back, like when we marched in the parade on Fifth Avenue, every button had to be shined, and [there was] all that military crease in the pants, and formations and that. I thought, "A steady diet of that, that’s not for me. I'll go back home; there's girls to chase, songs to sing, beer to drink. All kinds of good stuff. Let me out of here. The job is over with. Everything is finished over there. I'm going to adjust to civilian life. I have no part of re-enlisting." I just couldn't fit that in.
TS: Not the peacetime Army.
FS: No. I had a taste of that in Camp Shanks, and Camp Meade, Maryland [after returning from overseas]. We were in Camp Meade, Maryland, before we came to Camp Shanks. And that's where they said, "You people who are interested in re-enlisting and the ones that want out, fall in this line or that line." Well, I wanted out.
TS: When you came back to International Falls, you said you felt like they were from Mars, or you were from Mars.
FS: Like a displaced person. I had a hard time fitting in.
TS: Did you consider moving to a new place in the U.S.?
FS: Yes, I tried that, but you always come back here [to International Falls].
TS: Where did you go?
FS: Raymond, Washington. And then Texas. [Pauses] Kansas. I went and looked for that [boot camp] friend of mine in Kansas, and I couldn't find him. There was just no trace of him at that address. I came back up here [to International Falls] and went back to college, got a job in the mill [at Boise Cascade in International Falls]. And that wasn’t enough, so I started this construction firm with another partner. And between all the sports activities, and the trapping and hunting and fishing, you kind of got that adrenalin slowed down and you applied it to surviving, making enough money to buy things you needed to live.
TS: How long was it before you started to feel readjusted?
FS: [Pauses] I never completely got over it. I still have it.
Soboleski, Frank; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Thomas Saylor; Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2001.