Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. The first appeared on Nov. 25 and can be found at www.observertoday.com
On June 6, 1944, the allied troops landed at Normandy, France. While the second wave was on shore, ships from the first wave were returning to ports to pick up units that would be support the 818th was one of these units to be loaded.
Upon arriving, the 818th started to line up in a convoy and proceed to the first of many airstrips that were needed to support men on the front lines. When an airstrip or new command center and bunkers were complete, the battalion would fuel up again and organize into a convoy and move to a new location, at times 40 to 50 miles away. This young farmer, now heavy equipment operator, was seeing the actual war in Europe from the seat of his grader, driving through all the major battle areas of the war in Europe. Top speed for this vehicle was eight miles per hour and mined roads made easy targets. Pacos' only protection was a carbine rifle. With this rifle, if your target was fifty or more yards away, you crossed your fingers and hoped for the best.
Michael E. Pacos, U.S. Army
As the allied forces were getting close to Berlin, they noticed a new enemy weapon. Germany had invented a weapon that when launched carried heavy amounts of explosive equipment designed to explode on impact. The scariest thing about this new weapon, named the "Buzz Bomb," was that it landed wherever it wanted to. It could land on a hospital, a church or a school. While on a convoy one morning, Michael Pacos heard the screaming of a rocket. It found the members and vehicles of the 818th. Pacos recalled the noise, the heat, and the dust when the rocket hit. Twisted red hot pieces of steel flew everywhere, making pinging noises as they hit Pacos's grader and embedded themselves in its side. From that day on, Pacos kept an ear open, waiting for the uncanny scream and subsequent blast of another rocket.
The good news came - the allied forces were in Berlin, the tyrant Hitler had taken his own life and all felt the war in Europe was over. The Japanese forces hadn't quite given up, though, so the allied forces still had to deal with them. Some were reassigned and some got to go home. Because of his time in a combat zone and his respectable record, Pacos received his orders to come home.
Pacos was truly a hero, but like his fellow soldiers who came home at the time, he kept the war to himself. They were all cognizant of the fact that the real heroes were in the cemeteries. The veterans who were lucky enough to return to their families always kept their fallen brothers in mind, honoring their memories and what they sacrificed for their country.
Pacos returned to his wife Dorothy (Korzeniewski), who he had married Sept. 8, 1941 at Saint Hyacinth's Roman Catholic Church in Dunkirk. When Pacos went to war, his then-new bride went to live with family on Moffat Street. When he returned home to her, the couple felt lucky that Pacos was able to get his old job back with the radiator company. They also felt blessed in that Dorothy had a good job with Dunkirk Founders, a company that manufactured submarine periscopes. She was the head bookkeeper and the main breadwinner for her family, earning $43 per week.
Pacos lasted a year inspecting radiators. He came home and told his wife he wasn't happy working indoors all day. He was brought up working hard, he told her; it was his way of life, and he wanted to work outdoors with his hands. He wanted to build things and do things others hadn't done yet.
Luck once again came to the Pacos family when Dorothy won some money from a treasury ticket raffle. It was enough for the family to start their own blacktop company. The "Pacos Blacktop Company" was born. The company specialized in putting in blacktop driveways. With Pacos's experience with heavy equipment from the war and on the farm, this was a dream come true. He was using his skills to support himself and his family.
Blacktop was $18 per ton and was picked up at the pier. The summer months saw two to three new driveways a day, and with business doing well, the Pacos family decided to purchase land on the end of Zebra Street. With this new space came more equipment and added employees.
Times were good then, and the city actually had money and a lot of construction projects planned that were open to bids. Pacos and his wife decided that in order to be considered for these jobs, their company needed a name change. If they were going to bid on road construction, bridge repair, and new sewer main lines construction, "Blacktop Company" would not do. The name was changed to "Pacos Co. Inc," and with that name, they won bids. The construction field was booming and Pacos Co. Inc. was busy.
Pacos' company's first big job was widening Route 5 between Main Street and Central, taking it from two lanes to four. Next came Niagara Mohawk's need for a 50 thousand-gallon basil coal pile run-off. Later they worked on Dunkirk High School, SUNY Fredonia and the Water Street bridge.
The company started with a dump truck, a trailer and a D-8 bulldozer. It grew to have in its fleet six large dump trucks, three tractor trailers, five bulldozers, six trailers, four loaders and six earth movers. Pacos realized that the company had their hands tied if they tried to bid on any job that involved concrete. The only concrete made in the area was made by Dewitt. Pacos wondered how he could keep the cost of bidding on concrete jobs lower and how he could keep the playing field even. He didn't want to lose out on those jobs. Ever resourceful, his wife Dorothy came up with the solution: they would buy their own concrete plant.
A trip to Ohio and an large amount of money in the form of a cashier's check brought another concrete plant to Dunkirk. It not only helped out Pacos' construction company, it brought the price of concrete down to a competitive range, saving money for local residents who were building new homes, buildings, driveways and sidewalks. It was beneficial for the whole Dunkirk community.
At that time, there was an abandoned piece of land at the end of Main Street. It was 13 acres according to the tax rolls, and seemed like the perfect location for the Pacos family to move their concrete and construction company. Business carried on successfully for years.
A well-earned retirement eventually came for Pacos, who in addition to his many years of hard work and service to his country had raised five children, Dennis, James, Patrick, Andrew and Paulette. Over the course of his life, Pacos took care of his family, friends, and his church - St. Hyacinth's. Pacos and his wife were instrumental to the construction of the new church in 1963. Their donations made it possible to construct the beautiful mosaics of St. Hyacinth's that still set the church apart from others today. One of Pacos' most treasured belongings was a mosaic piece given to him by the church in recognition of his generosity.
Pacos was a man dedicated to his family, his friends, his church and his country. As I child, I knew him as a person who had love not only for his immediate family, but for all of aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives. He loved Poland, too, a country he only knew from the stories he was told while growing up. He would help a relative or neighbor, whether they needed their driveway shoveled or needed a new driveway altogether. He attended mass daily and made sure that before mass, the parking lot was plowed and safe for other parishioners. He even made sure the cemetery road was plowed, in case there was a funeral scheduled or a family wanted to visit a grave site. Mike Pacos was not just a good man, but a great man. He is and will be missed for a very long time by those who knew and loved him.
Writing down Mike's story has been bittersweet.
It's sad that we can never really know all of the great things a man does. It would have been great to sit down with Mike and talk bout the war, about walking to school every day, about the Erie Hotel and President Roosevelt, not knowing the man would be his Commander-in-Chief one day! All those first-hand accounts are now gone. So many stories of his life were told and passed on, but still, so many weren't.
I have nothing but love and respect for Mike Pacos: veteran, farmer, heavy equipment operator, husband, father and hero. Mike Pacos, who I still call "Uncle Mike!"