George Trojan and a friend were walking home from school in their hometown of Lwow, Poland, when the Gestapo blocked the main street and asked Trojan, then 15, and his friend for their papers. The pair complied, but they weren’t sent on their way.
Instead, the men barked orders: “Get on the truck!”
It was Sept. 9, 1943, and their city had already been bombed and fallen first to Russia, then Germany.
“And that was the last time I saw Poland for many, many years,” Trojan said.
More than 70 years later and thousands of miles away, Trojan’s friends at the Casper Country Club convinced Trojan that he had to write a book about his experiences in World War II.
So about a year ago the 91-year-old began writing his memoir, “Too Young for the Times.” Seven months later, the book was done. Trojan will give a talk and sign copies Jan. 16 at the Natrona County Library.
“It’s not about me,” Trojan said. “I’m the witness, and I think that story needed to be told.”
Trojan and his schoolmate, terrified, obeyed the command to board the truck and ended up in a German Luftwaffe camp. They found themselves welcomed, like volunteers, Trojan recalled with a laugh. The German army was collecting young men for forced labor. Trojan’s job was to climb up the telephone poles and attach the lines.
“It was hard labor all the way, you work your tail off,” he said. But he also was lucky enough to be an interpreter explaining tasks to workers because he spoke five languages, he said.
One day he was sitting on a post making ties and saw two American P-40 fighter aircraft overhead, he said. One approached, firing its machine guns, and Trojan slid down the pole.
He and his friend made a decision after that incident: “We’ve got to get the hell out of here,” Trojan recalled.
So they hoarded food as they planned their escape. Then the simply walked away one Saturday night in 1944.
“We headed for Salzburg, because that was only 72 miles away,” Trojan said.
Still wearing their uniforms, they only walked by night and slept during the day.
“If you’d get caught on the highway by the German MPs, no documentation, you’re swinging from the first tree,” Trojan said.
They received food, shelter and clothing at farms along the way. Once in civilian clothes, they could walk in daylight since they spoke fluent German, he said.
He can’t say exactly how long they walked. But one morning, he awoke to kicks from what turned out to be a U.S. soldier from Poland, who took him to the company headquarters.
“I thought we were in heaven,” Trojan recalled.
That September, he left on a ship bound for the U.S. and landed in New York City.
“I got off the ship, I kneeled down, I kissed the ground, I looked up, and I said, ‘OK Lord, I’ll take it from here,’” Trojan said.
He spent six years in the U.S. Army followed by time in the reserves.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “Because I didn’t want to be Polish-American, I wanted to be American with Polish heritage.”
He graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in foreign relations and spent a successful career in the mining and construction industries, working in the eastern U.S. and a stint in Saudi Arabia for a few years.
It took 16 years from the day he was captured to track down his family. Trojan finally returned in 1962 to visit his home country and reunite with his mother, brothers and other family. They’d moved to a town about 86 miles from Lwow, which had become part of Ukraine, he said.
“My two brothers met me at Warsaw airport and we got absolutely smashed,” he said.
His career eventually took him to Casper, where he worked for 12 years before retiring.
Trojan worked on his memoir at the Wednesday Writers group at the Natrona County Library. The group’s leader, Melanie Tibbetts said the book, and the fast pace with which he finished it, wowed the group.
“He had a goal, he set a date and he just cranked it out,” said Tibbetts, an an adult services specialist at the library. He’s been touring his book around town and in Colorado, and audiences are bound to enjoy his talk at the library, she added. The group still loves to hear his stories from his experiences during World War II, even if they’ve read the memoir, she said.
“He can really tell a story,” she said. “He’s like living history, hearing the stories from someone who actually lived it.”
One reason he’s glad to tell his story is for young people to understand more about the history and the experiences of his time during war.
“I didn’t have any teen years, as they say,” he said. He spent them simply trying to survive.
But he’s grateful for the life he’s lived, Trojan said, as he looked out at the cul-de-sac from his east Casper home last week. He commented on the mild, sunny day. The neighbors take care of his snow-shoveling and other maintenance, he said. He can’t do anything by himself anymore, he joked.
“I lead a charmed life,” he said. “Somebody is looking out for me.”