Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Berwyn, IL) The year was 1951,19-year-old identical twins Thomas and Anthony Bezouska were living in Berwyn, Illinois. The brothers were athletic and enjoyed participating in sports. Knowing that they were going into the military, they completed a year of college and worked at miscellaneous jobs. They anticipated getting their draft notice at any time, never expecting to be drafted together. The draft notices arrived, and so started the 2 ½ years the brothers would serve in the Army, side by side, until the war ended.
The brothers headed to Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky for basic training. Near the end of their training, they were told that if they joined the 11th Airborne or the 82nd Airborne, they would never have to go overseas. They joined the 11th Airborne expecting to stay in the States. Soon after, they were sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for jump school, which they thought was a little strange since the 11th Airborne had its own school. After parachute training, Tom and Tony were given wings, roll call was held, and the brothers were ordered to report to the 187th Airborne overseas. In early 1952, Tony and Tom found themselves on a ship going overseas, even though they were promised they would be stationed in the States.
The brothers remain proud to be a part of the 187th Airborne, now a part of the 101st Airborne, the only outfit that has fought in every single conflict since the Airborne was started. The 187th gained its great reputation after its success in WWII. Shortly before the Korean War broke out, the 187th Airborne were the first foreign troops sent to occupy Japan. While they were there, the Japanese people gave the 187th the name Rakkasan, which is derived from the Japanese word parachute or umbrella falling. As Tom and Tony stated, this is the only outfit that carried the name given by the enemy, which was an honor for the soldiers and still is.
In Korea, Tony and Tom served for about ten months in the 187th Airborne Combat Regimental Team, under the command of then Colonel William Westmoreland. They made jumps from four different types of airplanes, the last being a C-130 and the brothers remember the exhilarating two second exit from a plane that was going 150 miles per hour. They made two combat jumps during these 10 months and took part in battles at Triangle Ridge, Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill. As Airborne, they were constantly moving since, as the brothers stated, they were used as plug-ins to support other divisions. Side by side, the brothers witnessed banzai and bayonet charges; Tom says, “we saw enough to turn anybody’s stomach”. The brothers described the weather conditions as often extreme…hot, cold, monsoon rains. Conditions were horrible. On guard duty, soldiers were in the same clothes for days, with no facilities. They laid in holes filled with water for weeks being shelled and taking artillery fire. Tom and Tony remembered that the nights were particularly hard with the sky filled with flashes and the ground infested with rats.
The 187th Airborne was sent to assist in quelling the prisoner rebellion and rebuild the barracks at Koje Prisoner of War Camp where as Tom and Tony recalled, thousands of prisoners from China and North Korea were kept in deplorable conditions and tortured. After a short time, they were sent back into trench warfare to protect a 2-3 mile stretch in the Kumar Valley, where as they recalled, the shelling and artillery fire never stopped.
After Tom and Tony returned to Camp Chicamauga in Beppu, Japan the base camp of the 187th, they found out that medics were needed. Since they had some background in first aid from their Boy Scout training, they were chosen to go for medic training. They were sent to Etajima for three weeks as Tom stated, “to learn to be a doctor”. After the training, the brothers were told to report to Medical Company. They were reassigned to their prior Company. The brothers at first were happy to be sent to be with their buddies but soon realized they should have never been sent back to their own Company, since all the soldiers they had to care for were their friends, some dying in their arms.
The brothers stated that the job of a medic is to stabilize the wounded enough to get them to the battalion doctor. Tony and Tom always remembered that their Boy Scout training taught them the importance of keeping a person from going into shock, a lesson that they had to use too many times. At the age of 19, they had to do such things as a tracheotomy and returning intestines to a soldier that was badly injured. Tom and Tony also described that they always tried to reassure the wounded that everything would be alright, even though at times they knew this would not be the case. The brothers happily recalled two occasions when they thought the soldiers they had helped would not make it. But happily, they found out years later they had survived, one of which they occasionally see to this day.
July 15, 1953 is a day that Tom and Tony, who became known as the “Bazooka Brothers” will not forget. They were taking heavy shelling and artillery fire around the Kumar Valley where they were located. Tom was on the other side of the hill from Tony helping the many wounded soldiers. Tony was alone at the control point when he received a call that the medic (his brother Tom) had been killed and he needed to get to the platoon. Tony was shocked at the thought of his twin brother being killed. He finally made it to the platoon and the trench where Tom was supposed to be. He saw body parts and wounded scattered around. But as Tony looked around, he saw his brother coming up a hill helping a wounded soldier. Tony went down to help Tom. During this battle, the brothers were both injured but continued to tend to the wounded soldiers before taking care of their own injuries, suffering shrapnel wounds to their legs and body. Tony was sent to the 121st evac hospital in Yong Dong Po and Tom stayed at the nearby M.A.S.H unit. This was the only time the brothers were separated during the war!
The brothers credit their ability to survive the war while still helping the wounded by quickly learning…. “When you are in the infantry and the shelling comes in you hit the ground. When you are a medic and the shelling comes, you go to work.”
After the ceasefire on July 27, 1953, Tony and Tom remained in Korea and Japan. In Korea, they helped with the post-war cleanup. After they were done with their duties in Korea, they went back to Japan to wait to go home. While the soldiers waited, Colonel Westmoreland assigned them to their duties in the morning and had the soldiers play sports in the afternoon to release tensions. Finally, their time came. The brothers boarded a ship home where as the they fondly recall, they could enjoy a bit of luxury, good meals, a radio for music and bathroom facilities. They arrived home in New York on January 2, 1954 and eventually returned to Illinois where they were discharged at Fort Sheridan. They sadly, recall that their friends did not give them the welcome home they thought they would get.
After they came back home, Tom and Tony went back to their old jobs at Woodwork Corporation of America. Both Tom and Tony became apprentice cabinetry makers. Tony worked at the company in different capacities, working his way up to Vice-President while involved on such large projects as the Federal Courthouse. He retired in 1998. After a time, Tom left Woodwork Corporation of America to become a general contractor. He worked for Paschen Construction, then with McHugh Construction. He worked his way up to Senior Project Manager/Vice President, working on such sizable projects as the Civic Opera House renovation. Tom retired in 1997.
Tom and his wife Mary, to whom he became engaged just before he left for overseas, were married in 1955. They have four children and eight grandchildren. Tony and his wife Jane married in 1956 and have three children, three grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild, with another on the way! The brothers continue to live about a block away from each other.
Tony and Tom may have retired from their jobs, but they have been far from inactive. They have been heavily involved in the American Legion, VFW, 187th Airborne, the Korean War Veterans Association, the Boy Scout Organization and the Eagle Scouts. They still look forward to seeing fellow soldiers at the annual reunion of the 187th Airborne.
The brothers have also traveled extensively. They have been to Australia and New Zealand for reunions with the Australian soldier’s troops with whom they served during the war. They have also been to Korea three times. At first, they had no desire to go back. They did not want to relive experiences that they wanted to forget. Tom and Tony were glad that they did go back to Korea. They found the Korean people thankful and hospitable. As the brothers said “they were treated like gold”.
Tony and Tom have been honored with both the combat infantry badge and the combat medic badge. They have been honored as distinguished members of the 187th Infantry Regiment and were honored in 2011 in Fort Campbell with other past and present “Rakkasans”.
The brothers experienced a lot during the war. They saw horrible things. After they came home, Tony and Tom felt the effects of what they saw during the war, and still do to this day. They did not talk about their war experiences until 1995 when they met other “Rakkasans” at the dedication of the Korean War Memorial. As the brothers agreed, things changed at that visit. “It was like being home.” Tony describes the feeling of being a family after being reunited with their war time brothers, the other “Rakkasans”. Since that time, they have been able to discuss their experiences.
Nowadays, as Tom and Tony say, “they go with the flow”, taking each day as it comes. They believe that there are good things that came out of the bad things they experienced during the war. The brothers do not think they are heroes, but as they said, “we were just doing our job”.
Tom and Tony, you are heroes! Thank you for all your war time efforts and thank you for everything you continue to do working with the Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. Honor Flight Chicago commends you for keeping the memories of those that served in the 187th Airborne alive. Side by side, we wish you a special Honor Flight on April 12th.