A Memorial Day Story of
Determination and Luck
The Man He Saved Most Often
by Aloysia C. Hamalainen
Serkey Serkedakis would have nothing but a white cross in a French graveyard if Ken Myers had not gone against orders not once or twice that day but three times to drag him back to the living ...
When Ken Myers, 79, and George 'Serkey' Serkedakis, 85, see each other at their Veterans of Foreign Wars meetings, Serkey never fails to shake Ken's hand and say, "Thanks for not leaving me out there." In those instants, between them pass memories of smoking battlefields, the stink of blood and death, screams of wounded men and the shouts of officers. Together, for a moment, they return to that December 16, 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.
Today, explanation is needed for that deadly string of words. The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's last gasp. Lasting over a month, it was the single biggest and bloodiest battle American soldiers have ever fought. Nearly 80,000 were killed, maimed or captured, mostly because the Germans took the Allies by surprise. Freezing weather - recorded at times at minus 45 degrees - and snow compounded the misery.
Ken Myers is a tough guy. With his wide, strong shoulders and direct gaze, he is a force to reckon with now, and you really wouldn't have wanted to tangle with him 50 years ago, when he was 24. But he also wouldn't leave a cat in harm's way. Serkedakis is not the only man he saved during the war, just the one he saved most often.
Myers is a plumber with a specialty in turn-of-the-century farm houses. Because he can coax these recalcitrant pipes to work, he has a loyal and devoted following.
Serkedakis' eyes show the tracks of many, many years of smiles and laughter. He stands ramrod straight from his time as a soldier and, later, as a guard at the Government Printing Office. He also drove a cab in Washington, D.C.
Myers has a daughter and a granddaughter. Serkedakis has two sons and three grandchildren.
Serkedakis would not have had that or anything else except a white cross in a French graveyard if Myers had not gone against orders not once or twice that day but three times to drag Serkedakis back to the living when he had been given up for dead.
Not Every Man for Himself
Ken was a medic with the 394th Medical Detachment for the 99th Division. On December 16, 1944, stationed in Murringen, he was perhaps one of the first to realize that a surprise German offensive was under way.
"I looked out and the Germans were coming across the field," he said. "I went to the aid station and said, 'What are we doing here? The Germans are only a couple of hundred feet away and headed in this direction.'
"The major said 'Myers, you are crazy.'
"I said, 'It would do you good to come and look for yourself.'
"He looked out and told me to see the colonel. I went to the colonel and asked him the same question. He said we were supposed to hold, no matter what it cost. I went back and told the major, and he sent us back to the colonel. When we got there, an announcement came over the radio that we were surrounded. The colonel jumped up, grabbed some stuff from his desk and said, 'Everyone for himself and the hell with the rest of them'."
Hours later, Myers and another medic, Lanier, were sent out to pick up wounded. They came upon two men. Lanier told Myers to take the one but leave the other, the one face down in the snow, because he was dead.
But Myers saw a movement of the dead man's head.
I told Lanier the guy was alive, Myers remembers, but Lanier said, "Myers, you are crazy."
Still, Myers turned the wounded man over.
"The snow and ice was all frozen to his face," Myers said. I took my scissors and cut the snow from his nose and mouth so he could breathe. We carried him back to the aid station."
The major in charge ordered the wounded man to be taken to the morgue. Myers again balked, insisting "we'll take care of him."
A waste of time, the major called it. For the wounded man was indeed in terrible shape.
"The soldier had been hit in the head with shrapnel and a part of his skull was turned like a flap but connected on both sides," Myers recalled. "We worked around it and got his brains back into his head. Then we moved him from Murringen to the clearing station, which had been evacuated. We kept our badly injured patient with us where ever we went. I just kept putting sugar cubes between his lips to keep him alive. When one was gone, I put another one in."
Surrounded by Germans, the Allied troops took two weeks to punch their way out to get help for their wounded. Yet the hospital was only 10 miles distant.
"Around midnight," Myers continues, "we were told we were going to make a break for it at 2am. We loaded all the wounded on the truck, but we got orders from the major to leave our injured friend."
"'He's dead. He's not going to make it anyway,' the major said.
"But I put him on the truck and transported him to the hospital."
In retreat, they were attacked by Germans and then by Americans who thought they were Germans. They reached the hospital the next day, Myers said, and "I told the colonel if they were going to do anything for this fellow, they better do it quickly."
When Myers came back from carrying in another soldier, he found "six people working on him."
Still, Myers worried. "I came back later to see how he was getting on. I asked him how he was doing and he said, 'I fell out of bed and have a headache.'"
Out of the Blue
Myers didn't see the wounded soldier again. He never found out what happened to him, though he knew his name, George Serkedakis, from his dog tags.
Myers' war ended at an intersection. He was crossing the street when a bomb exploded. Next he was run over by a Jeep.
"After the war ended, I came home and took up my plumbing trade," Myers said, introducing a new chapter in his remarkable story.
"Two years later, he continued, "a lady called me up to clear out her chimney flue. I was checking out the fireplace when I glanced at a picture on a stand. I immediately recognized the soldier I had taken care of for two weeks. I knew his face very, very well."
"'Did you have a brother in World War II?,' I asked her."
"'Yes,' she said."
"'Well I was the guy who brought him out of the Battle of the Bulge,' I said."
Nine years later, Myers was driving down 18th Street in Washington D.C. At a red light, he glanced into a taxi in the next lane.
There was Serkedakis.
"I tapped my horn and he looked over," the plumber recalled. "I called out, 'Is your name George Serkedakis?'"
"When he answered 'yes,' I asked if the name Ken Myers meant anything to him."
It didn't, so Myers said, "Let's pull over and talk."
They talked for hours.
Serkedakis had never known the name of the man who saved him. He told Myers he had been conscious to hear the major order medics to take him to the morgue. He also heard Myers say "We'll take care of him."
The last thing Serkedakis remembers before that was his major in the 99th Infantry asking anyone who could hold a rifle to come forward. "I was given a bazooka, and I guess I could use it, but I don't remember anything after that," Serkey told me.
He was unconscious during the two weeks it took to get him to the hospital.
Memorial Day At Post 2562
Today, Myers and Serkedakis live in Maryland five miles apart. Both won Purple Hearts and bronze stars, and Myers a Driver's medal, for their time in the war. Myers' leg bothers him a lot, so he doesn't get around as much as he used to.
The old soldiers see each other mostly at Post 2562, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Wheaton. They'll probably be there this Memorial Day, to do what we all should and remember the men and women who put their lives at stake for their family and comrades.
To many of them, as to Ken Myers, every life was a life worth saving.
| Issue 21 |
Volume VII Number 21
May 27 - June 2, 1999
New Bay Times
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