“A Hero I’ve Come to Know”

A Memoir by Ryan Matthews

In the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 1924, Anna Dabulas gave birth to a healthy, seven-pound baby boy. He was her third child. A welcome first son to her husband, Andrew, he would be named Edward Andrew Dabulas. 

That morning the winds swirled with blinding snow as Andrew walked from their house on Blair Street to hop on the open-air trolley. The hospital was located downtown in the city of Scranton, Pa. This was coal country and the tunneled peaks adjacent to the city were where Andrew worked alongside the other cave workers. He managed seven coal cars and their laborers, which afforded his family economic stability. 

The post-World War I boom of more mechanized industries had created increased demand for coal, and the coal veins of the Lackawanna mines had become an economic lifeline and a major employer of many in the neighboring communities. 

The fuel was abundant in the hills of the Poconos. It was manually dug out of the mountains by miners with picks and shovels, then hand-loaded onto the coal cars.

This was risky work, with the looming possibility of a dangerous collapse, mine fires, and floods. All were ever-present fears of the men entering the mines, their silhouettes vanishing into the dark passage of uncertainty.

As Andrew held his son for the first time he also held a secret wish that his son would have a better way of life, a livelihood outside of the mines that would offer him a brighter future than he had had as an immigrant. 

Andrew Dabulas was my great-grandfather. An immigrant from Lithuania, his name is listed among the millions who had come to America through Ellis Island.

Andrew would eventually be father to a total of seven children, four girls and three boys. The girls played with baby Edward as if he was a human doll. Sadly, those early days when the girls and their mother doted on Edward came to a sudden end. 

One November morning Anna sent Lilly, who was seven, off to school, and she bathed and fed the younger children. 

The cold fall mornings were spent at the kitchen table, huddled in front of the wood-burning stove. Suddenly, without warning, Anna fell ill, collapsing to the floor. Her two toddlers were found hours later, wet and crying. Anna was found unconscious and unresponsive. 

Lilly was told when she came home from school. Anna lingered for five days, then finally succumbed to a brain bleed. 

She would be waked at home for three days. Lilly still remembers the purple bunting wrapped around the twig wreath on the front door.         

Two years later Andrew married Jennifer Tate, an arranged match. The pair was introduced by church members. It was a marriage of convenience. Jennifer had been recently widowed, bringing two children from her first marriage into the fold. Andrew was a suitable provider, 20 years her senior. Jennifer was a stout, robust woman capable of managing the household. Their union would produce two additional children, making their blended brood of seven.

Edward was the eldest son and he attended high school through the 10th grade. He was a lanky kid with sandy hair and hazel eyes; baseball was his passion.

He was otherwise shy, even a little socially awkward. His stepmother, Jennifer, was the only mother he remembered. She had raised him dutifully, though lacking the maternal love she showered on the children she bore.

After finishing high school, Edward found work with the Civilian Conservation Corps to help his family. His father was in failing health, later showing symptoms of black lung disease.  

“Edward, I wanted a better life for you. I don’t want you stuck here working in the mines,” Andrew said, coughing several times as he talked.

The Depression had been devastating for blue-collar workers. The ability of a young man with no skills to find gainful employment was nil.

“I know, Father, I don’t think the mines hold much opportunity,” Edward told his father. 

Clearly his father’s declining health was not symbolic of a bright future working in the mines.

The C.C.C. was a public works program that ran from 1933 to 1942. Edward’s search for new employment would end on Sept. 2, 1942. He was 18 when he enlisted for military service at the Wilkes Barre, Pa., office for the U.S. Army. 

He would ultimately be assigned to Company C of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion. The unit initially saw action when their Reconnaissance Company landed at Oran, Algeria, Africa, on Nov. 8 as part of Operation Torch. The rest of the battalion arrived there in December. They fought in the battle of Kasserine Pass in February 1943, and at El Guettar in March under Lt. Gen. George Patton.   

Private Edward Dabulas celebrated his 19th birthday in North Africa. On June 7, 1943, postmarked from Bizerte, Tunisia, Edward mailed his sister a postcard. He wrote and thanked her for the letters she had sent and said he was grateful hearing everything back home in Pennsylvania was all right. His sister had decided not to tell him that their father had passed a few weeks earlier, on Mother’s Day.

Edward’s unit converted to the M10 Tank Destroyers command at the end of the North Africa Campaign. The unit converted before they participated in the invasion, landing at Salerno, Italy, on Sept. 9. They made their assault at Anzio on Jan. 22, 1944, and entered Rome that June. It was while the unit was in Italy that Edward was injured and he received his first Purple Heart.   

Edward recovered and was able to rejoin his unit when they landed in southern France on Aug. 15. A few days later, on Aug. 19, 1944, Company C was involved in action in the vicinity of Brignoles, France. The Germans had a number of anti-tank guns set up in town and casualties were heavy on both sides. Pfc. Edward Dabulas received shell fragments and suffered severe burn wounds and was evacuated to a field hospital for treatment. Sadly, four days later, on Aug. 22, he died of his injuries.

He was posthumously awarded the Oak Leaf Cluster, denoting his second Purple Heart. He was initially buried in the American Military Cemetery in Luynes, France.

Shortly after the war ended, at the request of his sister Lilly, he was re-interred in the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale. With the passing of most of his siblings he is all but forgotten. Lilly, now 99 years old, only has a faint memory of her brave brother.

His medals have disappeared over time, his short heroic life unnoticed by generations of nieces and nephews that came after his death, who never got to know him. Remarkably, in spite of a sad childhood, not remembering his natural mother, never dating or likely experiencing true love, a brave young man emerged to become a hero.

Now 73 years after his death, I am humbled, coming to know my great-uncle, Pfc. Edward Andrew Dabulas.

 


Ryan Matthews, a Bridgehampton resident, retired from a mortgage banking career. His writing has previously appeared in The Star.