Not forgotten: Decorated Irons WWII veteran remembered

LAKE COUNTY — To some, a few older items kept in a metal box may not seem important enough to keep around. However, if a person were to examine the contents of the box, they may just uncover someone's remarkable life story — a life defined by selfless and heroic deeds.

Recently, the story a native son of Lake County, World War II veteran Joseph Thomas Kaderabek (1909-2000), of Irons, has found its way back home.

Two metal lock boxes filled with several of Kaderabek's war medals from WWII, original documents from the war era, such as his honorable discharge, dozens of photos from the battle front in the Southwest Pacific, newspaper clippings and more, ended up in Cadillac.

More than two decades after Kaerabek's death on March 6, 2000, Pat Mort, of Cadillac was able to help save these boxes of memories and accomplishments from being thrown out, and made sure they found their way back to Lake County - with the request that Kaderabek be honored.

"To me, these are important. He served our country and I think he should be honored," she said, relaying how her son was shown the boxes by someone who had no interest in keeping them.

Among the items is a Purple Heart Medal. Cpl. Joseph T. Kaderabek served with the U.S. Army 532nd Engineers Boat and Shore Regiment, after starting out as a pvt. technician, 5th grade, Co. C in the 592nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment in 1942. Having served in the Philippines and New Guinea, he was wounded in Leyte on Sept. 4, 1943.

Mort, who is a member of the Buckley Old Engine Club, which meets in Scottville, connected with club members from Lake County, Jim and Rose Dingman, who also are active at St. Ann Catholic Church in Baldwin, and asked if they would help find a way these contents would be preserved and get into the right hands.

"If he has some family around, I want them to know of what he accomplished and who he was, and where to find that information," Mort said.

The Dingmans asked the parish secretary, who is involved with researching local history, if she would help in this effort. The secretary connected with Patti Pacola, Lake County Clerk, whose office has paid homage to the memory of veterans in Lake County.

Pacola expressed amazement as she looked through the old records, photos and medals, particularly while holding the purple heart medal in her hand, something she said in itself was an honor.

She selected a couple photos of Kaderabek, the Purple Heart medal and discharge record, to be framed by Darci Maldonado of Pandora's Box, who framed other veterans' photos for the clerk's office.

"It's our honor to put these on display for our veterans. They fought for our freedoms and we are where we are because of them. I think it is an amazing story," Pacola said pertaining to Kaderabek. "I think it is sad when they are forgotten. Our entire office will be happy to have this on display."

Along with the Purple Heart, Kaderabek also was awarded the Asaiatic-Pacific Ribbon, Good conduct medal, Philippine Liberator ribbon, and two bronze battle stars. Kaderabek was recognized for rescuing fellow soldiers who were injured, while under Japanese fire.

A tattered, yellow clipping from the Lake County Star, also kept by Kaderabek, giving news of the local soldiers on the warfront, gave some more details.

"Atomic bomb helped Joe Kaderabek get discharged. Despite the fact that he had served 2 1/2 of his 3 1/2 years in the service in the Pacific area and had won the Purple Heart and several citations, Cpl. Joe Kaderabek, of Irons, was under orders to return to the Philippines when the atomic bomb upset the war program. He was given a stay and last week was mustered out at Ft. Sheridan, Ill. He is now home on the farm east of Irons and dropped into town Monday with his brother Frank and Joe Mezeski to attend the supervisor's meeting.

"Joe was with the U.S. Army 532nd Engineers (boat and shore regiment) who were first in on every invasion of Japanese held territory from New Guinea to Leyte, and stayed to dig out the last of the Japanese on Luzon. He was wounded but returned to service as soon as he was discharged from the hospital and was cited for special gallantry in recovering several comrades lying wounded, under Japanese fire."

While he was wounded, Kaderabek received a telegram, also saved all these years, from his sister, Anne Kaderabek, dating back to Nov. 6, 1943, and addressed to the 362nd Station Hospital, "To Joseph T. Kaderabek, Quote: Glad that you are recovering. Sister Anne - Unquote."

Also in the box are a couple of letters he wrote home to his sister and parents.

"Dear sister, Just a few lines to let you know I am well and hope you are the same. It is raining this morning so I have some time to write. I got my southwest "picific" area ribbon also a good conduct ribbon last week. I am sending you a copy of poems that soldiers of the allied division wrote that we're attached to....The ground is muddy and sloppy all around the tents, one would almost need hip boots to walk around. But you cannot expect anything better in New Guinea. I hope the sun gets out and dries this mess up. Will close this letter wishing you all the best of luck, Joe," March 10, 1944.

On Jan. 6, 1945, he touched base with his parents.

"Dear folks, I received your letter on Dec. 12, yesterday. It was good to hear you all are well as I am the same....The new year came in with a bang. This year plenty of fireworks as a Japanese plane "tryed" to "sneek" in, but he won't be back for a long time. On the beach is a Japanese plane that was shot down and every day and every night someone is taking things off of it for trinkets. ...Last "nite" we had a movie here, the first movie I saw since we came here. We also have electric lights in our tents now. I am sending you some paper money that I don't use here. ....Well, it's getting close to chow time and the line is getting long, so will wait until it is shorter. Wish the best of luck, Joe."

After the war, on Feb. 17, 1949, Kaderabek became postmaster in Irons. Land deeds also show him buying some land in the Wolf Lake subdivision in 1946, and in Idlewild, in 1951, as well as having land in Newkirk and Eden townships.

The metal boxes also contain some Kaderabek family history, including a tin-type photograph, and family wills and deeds, a couple of dog tags and an old map of Lake County, likely dating back to the 1920s. The Kaderabek's left their mark on the Irons area.

His parents, Frank and Maude Kaderabek moved to the east of the Irons area from Chicago, when Joseph was a child. He had brothers, James, Frank (who served as Eden Township Supervisor), and William, who owned the Kaderabek Sunoco Service Station, which was on M-37, near 7 Mile Road, about 3 miles south of the Irons turn. His sister Anne, served as treasurer of Eden Township.

The family is buried in the Eden Township Cemetery. It is unknown if they had any direct descendents.

Many photos, stamped with "Joseph T. Kaderabek" on back, likely taken by him, depict many scenes from his time during WWII, including tropical scenery, army life in the camps, as well as torpedos and billows of smoke rising on the horizon of the sea from ships blowing up.

Of the Kaderabek items not displayed at the courthouse, Bruce Micinski, president of the Lake County Historical Society will accept for the museum, as "another story of saving our local history, never knowing where it will be found."