By William McMurray
Wilber-Bartlett Post 315
This is the story of Paul G. Satlowski. After serving honorably in Vietnam, all he wanted was his Combat Infantry Badge. That comes towards the end of this story, but there is much to tell before we get there.
Satlowski was born and raised in Detroit. He graduated from Chadsey High School in June 1965 before joining the Army.
Paul was young and vigorous and healthy, in other words, he was prime USDA Army meat! He remembers going into Ft. Wayne with a group of guys, after taking his entrance tests. He and one other new recruit were put aboard a train and sent to St. Louis, and then bused to Ft. Leonard Wood for Basic Combat Training. He remembers it being hot and muggy.
I often thought that military leaders pick hell holes to make soldiers out of young boys/men. Ft. Leonard Wood truly fits that bill. After eight weeks of hot sweaty hell, recruits are ready to act like soldiers. If they were appointed to be an infantry soldier, they would then move onto Advanced Infantry Training. Everybody else in the Army gets Advanced Individual Training.
Paul was sent to Ft. Riley, Kansas, home of the Big Red One. This division has a bloody history. They are called first to do the hard jobs, the most fighting, and sustaining the most casualties. Paul should have known he was in it up to his chin. He graduated AIT and was bused to Manhattan, Kansas, to board a train that took him to Oakland Army Terminal. This was a very efficient place, he stepped down off the train, walked across a dock, and up the ramp into the USS General W.H. Gordon, which weighted anchor and sailed for Southeast Asia, Vang Tau.
They arrived in July of 1965, stayed a few hours to get their land legs, then jumped in deuce and a half (2½ ton truck) for a ride to Forward Operation Base Camp Bear-cat.
From here it was a search and destroy mission. The guys were sent to do security for Bien Hoa Air Base. Their job was to walk around the outside of the fence up to a mile away to protect everybody inside the fence.
He has some hard feelings, with vivid memories about an incident on April 24, when their firebase was being overrun by the enemy and they had a bunch of casualties and the med-vac refused to land in a hot zone. He said he knew they had eight casualties and five guys died because of that.
Just a couple of days later, on April 26, he had an encounter that changed his life.
They were out doing a search and destroy when they stumbled onto a huge supply dump for the enemy. This brought them under intense sniper fire. He felt fire in his belly and was falling forward as the sniper let some more shots fly. Paul heard more rounds coming out the pipe and knew that the sniper had an SK-47 sniper rifle. Two of those hit his rib, and one went through a lung. He heard a guy behind him say “hunker down I see him; he can’t lift his rifle up enough to get a bead on me.” Paul heard the familiar report of a couple of 5.56 rounds. That is when Paul knew the buddy behind him had killed the sniper that shot him. Then the man crawled to Paul and said, “I think I can get you to the aid station.”
In all, Satlowski had two rounds in his lower belly and one in his mid-side along the ribs as well as one through the lung. In just a few minutes he was at the field aid station and the medics were furiously wrapping bandages round his wounds to stop the bleeding. He was carried by litter and put on a med/vac to the 3rd Army Field Hospital in Saigon. It was there they discovered the worst of his injuries. The bullet he took to the lung had exited between his shoulder blades. Paul woke up with tubes going into every hole God put in his body and needles everywhere else. He was shipped back to the states on a C-141 to San Francisco, where he laid over a couple of days. Then he hopped to Scott Air Force Base just outside of St. Louis and onto Fort Knox, Kentucky. There he was hospitalized and treated until he was healed enough for physical therapy and rehabilitation. He was medically discharged in 1966 and assigned to the V.A. at Allen Park.
Paul was introduced to a young woman by a friend, and they developed an attraction and affection for each other and ended up at the altar. The couple has been together for 52 years! They left the city of Detroit in 2000 and came out to the Irish Hills area and built their home on a lake and have lived the dream since (except for the ongoing pain).
Now to the good part . . . Paul started attending the Big Red 1 reunions in 2005. At his first one, he saw a fella that struck a bell with him. Paul asked him if he was at a particular battle on such a date and the dude lit up like a Christmas tree and said “S.T.F.U., man you took four hits! I lit that sniper up for you and carried you to the aid station.” Paul knew him as Corp. Robert Ready. “Now he’s ‘Bob that saved my life’,” he says.
Bob and Paul are friends and battle buddies for life. This would be worthy of a twilight zone story.
At another Big Red One reunion, he met a man that jumped out of the chopper so they could slide Paul’s litter in. That man turned out to be Paul’s replacement.
A few years ago, one of the guys at a reunion brought a bunch of baseball caps with a Combat Infantry Badge on it. Paul wore it during the party but put it on his back seat during his drive home. He said he felt funny wearing a hat he didn’t deserve, as he never knew what the Army had awarded him for his stint in ‘Nam.
After a couple of years of this gnawing on him, he sent in the request to find out what he was awarded and what badges he deserved. A year went by, no answer. He put in a call to talk to Congresswomen Debbie Dingle, and she took an interest in his case. In just a week she contacted him and told him “they owe you a bunch of stuff.”
Paul turns out to be a highly decorated soldier with a respectful list of awards, but the one he coveted most was . . . that Combat Infantry Badge.
Paul was one of the Legionnaires I found belonging to the National file but unattached, I invited him to join Post #315 in Brooklyn several years ago, and finally got his story. Thanks for hanging with us Paul Satlowski! I look forward to seeing you at a meeting with your Legion Cover on hanging lopsided from the weight of all your decorations.
I want to misquote the old Abe Lincoln adage “I’d always step aside for a Veteran I saw wearing a purple heart”.
This is what is on Paul Satlowski DD-215
1. Combat Infantry Badge
2. Bronze Star/Valor
3. Purple Heart
4. Republic of Vietnam Service medal
5. National Defense Service Medal
6. Republic of Vietnam Campaigner Medal/60’s device
7. Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Unit Citation 1 class
8. Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation/palm device