By Leigh Ann Rutledge
Ed Ondusko doesn’t want to be called a hero.
What you can call him is a civil servant who has spent his life serving his country and community.
Ondusko, 91, has resided in the Carrollton area since 1976, when he built a home on property he purchased. Born in Belmont County, his family relocated to Wolf Run in Jefferson County in early 1940.
A quiet man, he can be found “holding court” over coffee at the round table in Archer’s Restaurant with a circle of friends. A modest man, he didn’t want to be singled out for his accomplishments until his friends encouraged him to share his story. A man of honor, he holds tight to a personal code of ethics from days gone by.
“It’s a piece of history that needs to be told,” they said, before jokingly adding, “If you don’t, we will tell about the night before you left.”
Ondusko was drafted into the Army in 1944, but was not accepted because he is missing the end of his “trigger finger”. He was drafted a second time in 1945. When young men turned 18, they were (and still are) required to register for the Selective Service. Ondusko resided in Jefferson County and signed up with the Selective Service Board. His draft card was signed by George T. Miser, the father of his friend, George W. Miser, who is a regular at the round table sessions at Archers. George T. Miser was the longest serving member on the Selective Service Board until his retirement and a charter member.
“They asked me if I could shoot a rifle,” Ondusko explained. “I told them I just switch to the next finger and I was accepted.”
Ondusko was sent to Camp Atterbury, an Army base in Indiana, for processing. After three days in the Army, he was discharged and entered the Army Air Corps.
“I am not sure how they graded us,” Ondusko said, “possibly by height and weight because the bigger men went into the Army and Marines. I only weighed a little over 100 lbs. and all the small boys went into the Air Corps.”
He was sent to Sheppard Field (now Sheppard Air Force Base), located near Wichita Falls, TX, for 31 days of basic training and four days of bivouac training. The training taught soldiers how to carry a rifle while crawling under barbwire mere inches above the ground and while trudging through mud and muck without losing their rifle.
Ondusko was sent to Scott Field near Belleville, IL, for communications training for teletype school. The communication era of Scott Field Branch of the Army Air Corps Technical Schools began in September 1940 with the opening of the Radio School. The wartime mission was to train skilled radio operator/maintainers who were often referred to as the “eyes and ears of the Army Air Force.”
He was assigned to the 15th Air Force, 28th Bomb Group, 559 Engineering Squad.
BERLIN AIR LIFT
At the end of the Second World War, U.S., British and Soviet military forces divided and occupied Germany. Berlin, also divided into occupation zones, was located far inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany. The United States, United Kingdom, and France controlled western portions of the city, while Soviet troops controlled the eastern sector.
Soviet forces blockaded rail, road and water access to Allied-controlled areas of Berlin June 24, 1948.
This, they believed, would make it impossible for the people who lived there to get food or any other supplies and would eventually drive Britain, France and the U.S. out of the city for good. Instead of retreating from West Berlin, the U.S. and its allies decided to supply their sectors of the city from the air. This effort, known as the “Berlin Airlift,” lasted for more than a year.
At the beginning of the Cold War, Ondusko was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, SD. He only had around 120-130 days left to serve of enlistment time. One day, he was told to “go get your shots you’re going to the Airlift.”
Stationed in Lincoln, England, he traveled on B-29s to Berlin delivering coal to enable the power plants to continue running during the blockade. Bins were made to fit into the bomb bays of the B-29 planes. One bay was filled with coal and the other was loaded with bombs and the plane’s guns fully loaded. The planes often made two trips a day delivering coal. Each trip, the planes were escorted by P51 fighters.
Ondusko noted the B-29s were usually only on the ground in Berlin for approximately 30 minutes. Often, the pilots didn’t even shut the engines off. During the airlift, supply planes landed or took-off every 30 seconds in Berlin.
The Berlin Airlift ended May 12, 1949, when Soviet forces lifted the blockade on land access to West Berlin.
Ondusko prepared to return to the United States and was one of 110 soldiers aboard a C54. The plane is designed with a tricycle front-end landing gear. The plane was so heavily loaded that when it began to prepare for take off, the soldiers had to stand behind the pilot to force the front wheel down so the plane could lift.
As they were flying, a bad snowstorm began over the Atlantic Ocean and forced the plane to land in Iceland. The next morning they discovered over eight feet of snow had fallen. The soldiers slept on cots in the hangers and had heaters on each engine. (A C54 has four engines.) When they were preparing to leave, Ondusko said the first engine turned and started, the second engine turned and twisted a shaft on the starter. The men spent three days in Iceland waiting for repairs.
Ondusko was honorably discharged in December 1948, and returned home. Due to his clearance level, Ondusko was assigned to the reserves. In 1950, he was called back into service for the Korean War. However, General George C. Marshall instituted “no involuntary calls” for servicemen and Ondusko was discharged after six weeks.
KP (kitchen patrol or kitchen police) duty was something everyone was assigned to at some point during their military service.
Ondusko tells of a soup incident during his time at Camp Atterbury. He begins by explaining America housed German POWs at Camp Atterbury during the war.
“They were required to work and were paid 20 cents a day,” he said. “One day I was scrubbing windows with GI soap. One window was located right above a big pot of soup cooking on the stove. The soap fell in the soup.”
Unsure of what to do, he continued on with his duties knowing the soap had dissolved in the soup. Later, the medical officer came to sample the soup. “The German POW who was cooking was raked over the coals,” Ondusko said.
In all actuality, they took very good care of the German POWs while they were in American custody. Not only did the POWs receive a stipend for working, they received medical care and were well fed. Ondusko said he knew of American soldiers who were housed in German POW camps and they were fed soup made from potato peels and moldy bread.
The POWs were able to understand enough English to communicate with the soldiers. Ondusko, who is fluent in Slovac, Polish and Russian learned to speak German during this time.
Another incident occurred when he was working in the warehouse at Camp Atterbury. At that time, soldiers were assigned clothing that was not always the correct size. A German tailor was working with Ondusko in the warehouse and volunteered to alter his clothing. “When he brought them back my clothes fit like they had been specifically made just for me,” Ondusko stated.
Another KP assignment found him in the mess hall at Scott Field, which seated 4,800 people at a time, with six food lines. During KP duty, it wasn’t unusual to be cracking eggs at 3 a.m. Ondusko noted.
Ondusko was fortunate. His military training allowed for a smooth transition to civilian life.
Using his communications training, Ondusko worked for Western Union for 26 years. He began as a technician and rose through the ranks to being the manager of technical services of northern Ohio. His career began in Dayton and spanned a large portion of Ohio. He spent six years in Steubenville, during which time he graduated from Pittsburgh Technical College with a degree in radio/television industry electronics. “I was a licensed radio engineer,” he explained.
Work took him to Columbus, back to Dayton and finally to Cleveland, where he was manager of northern Ohio.
During these years, he was in charge of media at major events across the United States. He has worked communication details with several presidents, beginning with Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.
He reminisced about standing about five feet away from President Truman while he was on a train in Sydney, OH, and how, at the dedication of the Air Force Museum at Dayton, a young boy was crying and Richard Nixon pulled a pen from his pocket and gave it to the boy. (It did not stop the child from crying.) He also worked Barry Goldwater and Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) events where Arnold Palmer participated.
Ondusko and his wife, Jean, visited six countries in Europe arriving in Berlin just as people began dismantling the wall. Standing there he said, “I wondered why was the wall built? Why did they want to keep the people segregated? They were all Germans.” But he also admitted, he knew the Russians could be ruthless people, even killing US servicemen at Bradenburg Gate.
He also noticed the sectors held by the US and Britain all those years ago had been rebuilt but Russian-held sectors resembled slum areas. While in Germany, the Onduskos visited the birthplace of Ed’s father.
He visited London, specifically Bushy Park, where he set up communications during the Berlin Airlift. It was the one place that remotely resembled the past.
After leaving Western Union, Ondusko worked at Colfor in Malvern, retiring in 1991. He designed and built controls to run the 3,000+ pound presses.
Ed and Jean have three daughters who, like their father, are civil servants, serving as teachers. He has five grandsons, two great granddaughters and four great grandsons.
He is a member of American Legion Post 428 and Amsterdam VFW Post 232 and belongs to Carroll Masonic Lodge 124 and the Scottish Rite of Canton.
Ondusko doesn’t want to be called a hero. He is a civil servant who, to this day, lives by a code few understand. His respect for his country, the American flag and the freedoms those living in the United States often take for granted still run deep. He says he is not a hero. He says he’s just an average man
Those who know him give in to his desire to be called by ordinary man, but add he’s an ordinary man who lives an exemplary life.