Northland "Band of Brothers” Hero recalls WWII

By KBJR News 1

May 16, 2014 Updated May 16, 2014 at 10:30 PM CDT

International Falls, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- One of the most heroic units in the Second World War is Easy Company of the 101st Airborne known as “The Band of Brothers”.

Their bloody fight across France and Germany was memorialized in an HBO special of the same name and it turns out one of real "Band of Brothers' grew up in northern Minnesota.

His name is Frank Sobeleski. He’s 88-years-old and living in International Falls, MN. He’s sharp, opinionated and tough as ever.

The HBO series called "Band of Brothers" told the world about the World War Two service of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. It told the stories of soldiers like Captain Ronald Spiers.

"He was a hundred proof man. He was a hell of a good guy,” One of the Band of Brothers, Frank Sobeleski, said.

Sergeant Wild Bill Guarnerre was also one of the heroes portrayed in the show.

"He was crookeder than a dog's hind leg but he was a hell of a good guy. I didn't want him on the other side of me. I liked to be his friend,” Sobeleski said.

Sobeleski knows those men because he was there, too. Sobeleski grew up as one of 13 children of a farm family near International Falls, MN. When Pearl Harbor hit, he was turned away from the army for being underage.

While waiting for his turn in the service, he migrated to California and was living in a refrigerator box, under a bridge, when he got a short lived job as an extra in western movies.

"I'm still mad at John Wayne because he got my job,” Sobeleski said.

At 18, Sobeleski was allowed to join the Army but washed out of fighter pilot training because of color blindness. Unimpressed with the training in the infantry, he joined the paratroops and became part of the Band of Brothers during the September 1944 assault on Holland.

From there, he and his brothers moved to the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

"We were out of groceries, out of ammo, out of clothes, out of guts,” Sobeleski said.

Sobeleski didn't become one of the characters in the HBO film but some of his exploits were shown. He was involved in the mission across a German river to take prisoners.

"I took my shirt off and greased myself up off of axle grease, put my underwear back on, tied that rope around my stomach and swam across the river,” Sobeleski said. "That Bronze Star, that's the one I got for swimming that river."

The prisoners captured were two young soldiers and an elderly member of the German Home Guard.

"He said I had my cross hairs on you about ten times,” Sobeleski said.

Pushing into Germany in early 1945, Easy Company liberated the Kaufering Concentration Camp near Dachau.

"It was boxcars with bones about four feet high,” Sobeleski said.

One of the unit's last actions of the war was capturing Hitler's mountain retreat.

"We hit it all at once. In the end I was in, there were two officers and they come out with their hands way up. They wanted to give up,” Sobeleski said.

After the war, Frank Sobeleski often felt like giving up, too. For years, he suffered from post–traumatic stress disorder.

"It's caused from not having any control at all when they're in a situation like Bastogne. They're totally helpless,” Sobeleski said.

Why wasn't Frank Sobeleski a character in the Band of Brothers movie? It's because he kept throwing away letters from the producers.

But, he accepted a trip to France for the film's premiere and met up with old Easy Company friends like Bill Guarnere and Babe Hefron. Wife Renee says that reunion helped chase away much of the PTSD.

Now, there are only 18 of the Band of Brothers left alive. Were they the heroes the book and TV show make them out to be or was it all Hollywood hype?

Bob Fuhrman of the Bong Museum says they were indeed heroic but so was every other man and woman who put on a uniform in World War Two.

"They were there when they were asked to go and that I think is heroic in and of itself,” Bong Heritage Center, Bob Fuhrman, said.

Frank Sobeleski, seventy years later, remains in awe of all of his brothers.

"They were fighters or they wouldn't have been there. They went through all of it and proved themselves and that's the kind of people we had. You could depend on them,” Sobeleski said.

Though you won't find Frank Sobeleski's name in the TV show, "Band of Brothers", you can read about his experiences in a book called "We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories From the Band of Brothers."

Dave Anderson