It’s no secret that Americans are quickly losing important history as members of the greatest generation die off.
That’s why you lean forward a little more and try to listen a little harder when a man like Theodore Orlicki speaks up. The former Army soldier doesn’t speak loud, and while he may not look the age attached to him, if you look closely you can see the wear and tear gained from age and a service to his country.
“I’m just happy to be alive and help out,” said Orlicki when asked about his four years of service.
Orlicki spent more than a year of his time in the Army on the island of Attu — an often forgotten battleground that led countless intel to the Americans by way of amphibious landing.
Attu Island was mostly evacuated when the Japanese took the land in 1942, but because of its strategic placing near Alaska it was considered important to retake the island. War raged on the small island for months. Thousands of Japanese and American soldiers died. Thousands more were evacuated for non-battle injuries.
Orlicki was on the island when the final Japanese soldier was coming off the mountain. Intel from the Air Force servicemen he was protecting came his way that the man was heading toward the ocean.
“So I ran to my bunker and grabbed my rifle,” recalled Orlicki, explaining he was looking through his rifle scope as the man was shot and killed. “By the time he reached the ocean someone from the Air Force beat me to it, ended his life.”
On Sunday morning, Orlicki recalled the final days of Attu Island to a small, intimate group inside Faith Harvest Church in Warren. His pastor, Reverend David Mayer, works part-time at the care facility that oversees Orlicki. Veterans who served in multiple wars were invited to partake in the service. Hymns were sung that focused on America and special prayers were read for those who fought for the country.
Orlicki, who was the main attraction, didn’t ask for the spotlight. In fact, he didn’t appear to want anyone to fuss over his service. He repeatedly said he was simply doing his service.
While he’s now 100 years old, Orlicki still can recall events surrounding his service, although he seemed to circle back to the same moment over and over again.
“I was just glad to get home,” Orlicki said multiple times.