by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, June 2011) World War II Veteran Theodore “Ted” E. Sliwa, age 89, of the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood, has a message for Americans: “Memorial Day is a day to commemorate, not celebrate.” For years, Sliwa, served as Chairman of the Memorial Day Committee at the now closed St. Barbara’s Church at 1505 Denison Avenue. On May 30th of each year, a procession and solemn high mass followed by a parade and military ceremonies were held at the parish. A program from the 38th Annual Memorial Day Ceremonies in 1997 lists twelve members of St. Barbara’s Parish who died as a result of their service to their country in World War II, where they were killed, and the medals they received. The program also lists the number of Americans killed in World War II (407,316), Korea (54,246) and Vietnam (58,455).
Sliwa, a forward observer reporting directly to the command staff of the First and Third United States Armies under the Command of General George Patton in World War II, was in a position to see many of those casualties up close and personal. Corporal Sliwa of the 552 Field Artillery in the First Army received five Battle Stars and a Silver Star for his service in World War II.
Sliwa was part of the allied invasion force that landed at Utah Beach in the Normandy region of France. The invading allied forces landed in Normandy while under fire from land, sea and air. This began an eleven-month period in which Sliwa and the First U.S. Army participated in five major battles. The First Army then pushed on to Mortain and St. Lo followed by General George S. Patton’s Third Army.
Next came the Battle of the Bulge. Sliwa says during the Battle of the Bulge, which began on December 16, 1944 and ended January 25, 1945 “the temperature was 15° to 20° below zero.” Sliwa says as a forward observer, he was asked what equipment he would need. Recalling the advise of his grandfather, a Polish veteran of World War I, he asked for 16 pairs of socks. Sliwa says he stuffed the socks under his shirt and in his helmet and changed his socks daily. He credits this with saving him from getting the dreaded trench foot — a condition caused by moist socks freezing to the skin of the feet. Over 15,000 American soldiers suffered from trench foot or frostbitten feet during the Battle of the Bulge.
As a forward observer Sliwa sought high ground and used a field phone to call in the enemy position to the command staff. On one such mission, during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, Sliwa recalls rescuing and feeding a goose whose wing had been damaged by gunfire. He said when the American troops moved on, he gave the goose to a local farmer
Sliwa observed the huge German offensive at the Battle of the Bulge where over 19,000 American troops were killed. Sliwa estimated the distance of enemy positions so American forces could respond with the appropriate artillery fire. Sliwa says he reported directly to General George S. Patton’s Command staff. Sliwa credits General George S. Patton, Jr., who took command of both the First and Third Armies, with winning the Battle of the Bulge and the War in Europe, and calls for the nation to honor Patton on his birthday, November11th.
Sliwa is proud of his service to the First Army, which he said was “first in Europe, first in Germany and first to cross the Rhine.” After the Battle of the Bulge the First Army battled at Remagen Bridge and Central Europe. He recalls when his unit was in Germany, they were searching a house for provisions and went into the basement and couldn’t find any food stored. Recalling Polish relatives, who grew up in Europe, saying that people in Europe kept their provisions in the basement in the summer and in the attic in the winter, he told the troops to look in the attic. The unit was able to eat that day, and continue their march toward Berlin. Sliwa and the First Army were 100 miles from Berlin, the German capital, when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.
Sliwa, was born on August 21, 1921 in Cleveland’s South Side (now called Tremont). He was one of seven children (4 boys and 3 girls) in the Sliwa family. In 1925, his family moved to the area along Denison Avenue (now the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood where he resides today) where he attended St. Barbara elementary school. Sliwa then went on to attend West Tech High School.
Sliwa recalls a day in high school when he became a member of legendary Principal Chares Cecil Tuck’s track team. He said the 7 foot tall Tuck caught him in the hall without a hall pass. He was required to report to the school at 7 a.m. the following morning to do laps around the school at W. 93rd and Willard. He recalls it rained that day.
Sliwa graduated from West Tech High School in 1942. In September of that year, Sliwa attended Ohio State University where he enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps and worked while going to school to pay his tuition.
Seven months later, Sliwa was called to active duty. Following basic training at Fort Brigg, North Carolina, he was assigned to Army Specialized Training Corps at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, and returned to Fr. Brigg as a Corporal with Battery B of the 552nd Field Artillery. He soon found himself on a transport headed for Scotland and preparation for the invasion of Normandy, France in June of 1944.
Following his service in World War II, Sliwa returned to Ohio State University where he finished college with the aid of the GI Bill. After graduation Sliwa worked selling advertising for local radio stations, such as WERE, WTAM and WJW.
Sliwa became involved in politics in the mid 1960s. He served as Cleveland City Council representative for Cleveland’s old Ward 6 (now the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood) from 1968 to 1978. Sliwa recalls leading a battle in City Council to oppose a resolution introduced by Councilman Frank Gaul to sell the Cleveland Municipal Light Plant.
A February 2011 Resolution of Recognition from Cleveland City Council acknowledges Ted Sliwa’s tenure on Cleveland Council saying, “Ted was know as a loquacious loner in debates and was often the solitary “nay” voter in roll calls. Former Council President George L. Forbes conceded that in the long run, many of the stands taken by Councilmember Sliwa proved to be right. He was also a sharp critic of Mayor Ralph Perk’s finance policies and the selling of city assets.”