April 1, 2019 – West Bend, WI – Vietnam War veteran Allen Polachowski, of West Bend, is heading to Washington D.C. on the April 6 Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.
Polachowski was born in 1944 in Milwaukee. His mother was a secretary for a company in Milwaukee called Vilter Manufacturing, while his father served in the Army during World War II. “My father, Erwin, was serving when I was born,” said Polachowski. “My daughter is an only child as well and she was also born when I was in Vietnam.”
Thankfully, Polachowski’s father made it home safe because he was lucky enough to have served within the U.S.
In 1955, his family left Milwaukee and moved to St. Francis. Polachowski graduated Don Bosco High School in 1963, an all-boys, parochial school. In the early 70’s, Don Bosco High School merged with Pio Nono High School, establishing the current Saint Thomas More High School in Milwaukee.
After graduating high school, Polachowski attended college at UW-Eau Claire to study economics and political science. “It was the furthest from Milwaukee that I could find at the time. I wanted to be, shall we say, footloose and fancy free,” Polachowski said.
The day of his college graduation, in 1968, Polachowski was drafted into the Army. “At the time, there was an active draft, no lottery,” he said. “I had a deferment of an S2, which meant I was a student. 1968 was one of the high points of the war, so they were eager to get anyone they could. Anyone on my block that was a male was drafted.”
Polachowski was able to enroll in UW-Milwaukee to pursue his master’s degree, the draft board allowing him to finish his first semester as long he enlisted in their College Op program. Polachowski said that the advantage of joining the army the way he did gave him the ability to choose which OSC (Officer Candidate School) he wanted to attend. “I selected armor because there wasn’t a lot of armor in Vietnam,” Polachowski chuckled.
Both Polachowski’s Basic Training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) was completed in Fort Dix, New Jersey. “Obviously the majority of people there knew where they were going after, it was one step away from jungle school or some other form of advanced training,” Polachowski said.
After AIT, Polachowski married his high school sweetheart, Lynda, and was transferred to OCS in Fort Benning, Georgia. “By the time I got done with my basic schooling, armor school had been closed,” he said. “They said too bad, you’re now going to infantry school.”
Polachowski was commissioned in April of 1969, his first duty assignment was a training officer in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, “My wife and I lived in there until November when I signed up for Heavy Mortar Platoon Leader School. At the completion of that, I was sent to Vietnam on December 24, 1969,” Polachowski said.
In Vietnam, Polachowski was assigned to the biggest division, Americal (or 23rd Infantry Division), which was in Chu Lai, “You probably know the division from a guy named Lieutenant Calley, who was responsible for the 1968 My Lai massacre,” said Polachowski. “The division consisted of three brigades. The 11th, which was part of the massacre, I was in the 198th Brigade, which was in the central part of their area of operation, and the final brigade was 196th.”
Polachowski became a rifle platoon leader and was responsible for 36 infantrymen. “The primary objective we did was patrolling, which meant we went from our base camp and would search through an area,” he said. “We would patrol for about three weeks at a time; It was what they called search and destroy. We kept patrolling until we were hit by the enemy, in which case they would reinforce us with a larger unit that would augment us. We also had to defend the engineers who had to clear a road, or if a helicopter went down, we’d have to go out and try to recover the pilot if he was still alive. We also did a lot of ambushing at night.”
Polachowski shared that his platoon would be sent clothes every other week. “The clothes would just rot off your body,” he said. “We didn’t have daily changes of clothes or showers or bathrooms. This one particular time, they shipped us hot food, but the food they sent us was spoiled chicken and everyone in my platoon came down with dysentery.”
Polachowski’s time serving the 198th Brigade in Vietnam lasted a year, ending because he got shot. “After I recuperated, they were going to send me back to the bush, but it just so happened there was a job available; they were looking for an officer who had a college degree,” Polachowski said.
Working in Vietnam in Division Headquarters, Polachowski became Commanding General Briefing Officer. While he was serving, his daughter, Stacy, was born. “I wanted to save my life as much as I could so my last duty assignment in Vietnam was working as an operations officer at the G5 Psyop,” said Polachowski.
December 1970 was his last month of service, leaving Vietnam as a 1st Lieutenant. His daughter was four months old by the time he arrived home. Jobs were scarce during that time, so Polachowski ended up working for Xerox for a few years. In 1971, his family moved to West Bend. In 1976, he entered the Army Reserves, leaving after seven years as a Major. His wife, Lynda, worked in the West Bend School District for 26 years.
Recently, in his spare time, Polachowski gives presentations on Vietnam. “They last about 45 minutes – breaks down what the army was like, how it was organized, the missions, the weaponry, interesting facts….I’ve been giving them to rotary, ladies clubs, schools if they ask,” said Polachowski.
Polachowski’s daughter will be his guardian on the flight. “I’ve was in D.C. before the Vietnam memorials were up,” said Polachowski. “I’m excited to go. Ninety-seven guys were killed in my company and I’d like to see their names and numbers.”
Click HERE to read more about veterans from Washington County on the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight.