"Paul Eskay has received so many blessings over the years," said his daughter, Elaine Eskay Zins of Powell.
"We wanted to use the occasion of his 90th birthday to give back by hosting the Salem Community Banquet and surprising him with a birthday party when he arrived. Not to mention that it would have been impossible to keep him out of the house for the length of time it takes to prepare and set up for a party," she said.
Eskay's birthday is on D-day, June 6.
Paul Eskay was honored on the occasion of his 90th birthday at a suprise party during the Banquet in Salem recently. The Banquet in Salem, which Eskay attends weekly, was hosted by his family. Shown are, from left, Paul Eskay and his brother, Robert Eskay of Leetonia. Paul also has a daughter, Elaine of Powell, a granddaughter Ally and two grandsons, Zachary and Jonathan.
"The biggest blessing in Paul's life is that returned from World War II at all," said Zins. "As a combat medic in the Third Infantry Division, 15th Regiment of the United States Army, he was responsible for providing first aid and front-line trauma care on the battlefield, resulting in Paul witnessing many of his army buddies die during battle. On one occasion, the sergeant asked for volunteers to be on the front lines. An older soldier that Paul had befriended pushed him aside and said, 'You're just a kid. You have your whole life ahead of you. I'll go.'
"Paul prayed every day (all day long), that he would not be injured and that he would return home. But on Jan. 9, 1945, something happened that he never expected, in fact, never even thought of. He was captured by the German forces and taken to Stalag VII-A, the largest German WWII prisoner of war camp (80,000 imprisoned Allied soldiers), north of Moosburg in the state of Bavaria, Germany. The captured young men walked for nearly three days, wearing ill-suited clothing for the sub-zero temperatures, before boarding the train to Moosburg. Every day, while in captivity, the POWs marched 20 kilometers to rebuild the German railroad by shoveling dirt into the large craters formed by the bombings and then laying new tracks. Just as they finished their first order, the train made one pass and the Americans blew it up, requiring the POWs to start all over again.
"Nineteen forty-five is recorded as Europe's coldest 20th century winter, with blizzards and temperatures as low as -13 F. To nourish their cold and tired bodies, the POWs were fed cow beet soup and two thin slices of bread, made partially with sawdust; food actually intended for livestock. These poor rations, along with unsuitable clothing for the extreme winter conditions, left the POWs ill-prepared for the daily trek and long hours of hard, manual labor. But despite the appalling conditions, Paul's second blessing is hidden within the serendipity of events, for it is likely that the proximity of Stalaag VII-A, to the town center, where much of the industry was located, is precisely what spared that prisoner camp from large-scale bombing," said Zins.
"As the Soviet Army was advancing, German authorities decided to evacuate POW camps, in order to delay liberation of the prisoners. So, on April 10, Paul was among the 100 men who were loaded onto the train to Landshut, Germany, 12 miles northeast and housed in a old barn. This move proved to be Paul's third blessing.
"It was not until April 29 that the majority of POWs who remained in Stalaag VII-A were liberated. [ ...by the U.S. 14th Armored Division, following a brief battle with SS soldiers of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division. The division's commander attempted to use Stalag VII-A, as a hostage to buy time to escape across the Isar River. But, the plan was foiled when the 14th Armored Division's commander learned of their intention and ordered his Combat Command A to take Moosburg, capture the bridge across the Isar River and secure the Allied Prisoners of War. The American infantry and tank force advanced to Moosburg and quickly attacked the Panzergrenadier's defenses before they entered the town.]] But shortly after 3 a.m., the morning of April 16, Paul awoke to the sound of artillery. As the shelling got louder, he grew increasingly hopeful that the Americans were advancing. It was approximately 9 a.m. when suddenly, the guards threw down their weapons and "took off," scattering in every direction. Now that it was finally safe to go outside, Paul and the other POWs ventured into the still brisk air (the guards were wearing their overcoats) and brilliantly sunny skies. There, they saw the U.S. 106th Infantry Division. Paul's prayers had been answered.
"The American soldiers were corralled and helped into the open bed of the waiting army trucks, which transported them to cargo planes, already prepared for the flight to southern France. In France, they were deloused, bathed, given clean clothes, a medical check-up and eggnog as they prepared to board the ship for home," she said.
"As the days droned on incessantly during his POW time, Paul kept an optimistic attitude by praying the rosary and telling himself, "Maybe tomorrow will be the day I am freed.' It was during this time that he made a vow: he promised himself that if he was released, he would make every Christmas special and that he would help others for the rest of his life.
"After graduating from Akron Barber College in 1946 and opening his own shop at 123 So. Broadway, Paul easily found many opportunities to volunteer. He was an usher for St. Paul's Catholic church for 60 years, a money counter for the church's bingo for 35 years, served as president St. Paul's Men's Club, serving dozens of spaghetti dinners for fundraisers, during his 15-year membership, a Red Cross 10-year blood donor and member of the gallon club, booth volunteer for horse racing, roulette and fish ponds during the years that St. Paul hosted a summer festival and served at the Salem Community Thanksgiving dinners from the very first one until 2010.
"Two years ago, Paul received his fourth blessing, at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas, when he received a new aortic heart valve. At 88 years old and not a candidate for open heart surgery, he was the 13th person chosen from hundreds of applicants per week, to receive a bovine heart valve using the TAVI procedure (Transcatheter Aortic-Valve Implantation).
"Bev Henderson of the Salem Community Banquet hopes that other Salem community residents will copy Elaine's idea and host the Banquet to honor a loved one in the future," said Zins.
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