As Americans observe Memorial Day by honoring military men
and women killed in battle over the years, Marvin Mischnick of
Elmhurst has dozens of pictures to remind him what life was like
on both sides of the battleground during what many consider the
nation's greatest military victory.
Mischnick, 83, served in the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored "Spearhead"
Division from July 1941 to October 1945.
He was at the famous Battle of the Bulge, but not as a soldier.
He also was at Normandy, among the first to witness the human
devastation at Omaha Beach from which he still displays
a piece of shrapnel in a frame on his fireplace mantle.
He was a military photographer, chronicling the Allies' liberation
of France and the rest of Europe as they made their first sweeps
into war-torn regions devastated by the Nazis. The photos in
his collection are so vivid, they could almost be stills from
the Steven Spielberg film "Saving Private Ryan," which
the photographer recommends as a highly accurate record of what
the war was like.
He was among the first soldiers to witness firsthand destroyed
cities, from burned-out churches and neighborhoods to still-burning
tanks and rotting enemy fighters, and even the eerie aftermath
of the concentration camps.
But he also was right there for meetings involving Presidents
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
and Gen. George Patton and visits to the troops by such noted
celebrities as boxer Joe Louis, actor James Cagney, harmonica
virtuoso Larry Adler and the first and only actor to visit them
alter D-Day, Edward G. Robinson.
And he captured all he saw on 35mm film.
"I was the division official photographer in the intelligence
division headquarters, the forward echelon of the whole division
and we spearheaded through the continent of Europe," Mischnick
said. "In Germany, Belgium and France we were the guys that
cracked the Siegfried line, the impregnable barrier they said
we couldn't break through."
Mischnick was a Maywood native who got his start as an assistant
to commercial photographers at the Merchandise Mart before the
war. In the years after the war, he was a commercial photographer,
shooting happier times such as weddings.
Although he carried his own carbine while shooting the war-torn
landscape, he was fired at more than once and claims he could
have died 12 times over.
"In Cologne, which was just a bunch of rubble, there
were still Nazi soldiers, hiding in the buildings ready to fire
at us," he recalled, adding that at first the French citizens
were not very welcoming, either. "We were tightening (our)
hold on the last remnants of Hitler's Germany."
The closest he came to dying was when a shell tore through
his pup tent as he camped with soldiers in Normandy in July 1944.
He still has the spent shell.
He even keeps a tattered Nazi flag he found on which he painted
the names of all the battles his division won after their "baptism
by fire" at Villers Fossar and St. Lo, France.
Some of his photography has been published in documentaries,
but most of his pictures and some of the souvenirs he collected
along the way will soon be donated to the Elmhurst Historical
Museum for a future exhibit.
On May 14, he and some 100 other World War II veterans were
recognized by Consul General of France, Dominique Decherf, in
a ceremony at Daley Plaza in Chicago, where they received certificates
for helping liberate their country.
Mischnick was joined by his wife, Elaine, an Elmhurst resident
since 1928, and their neighbor and friend, 5th Ward Elmhurst
Alderman James Parker, who noted how gratifying it was to accompany
a man with such a distinguished historical past.
"France has never forgotten the sacrifice," said
Mischnick of the American veterans honored by the French, "and
they still appreciate what we did."
Despite the fact that Patton received many accolades for helping
win the war in Europe - stories Mischnick is quick to refute
- the division he was part of deserves much of the credit, Mischnick
The division won five battle stars: Normandy, Northern France,
Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe.
Even Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not gives the 3rd Armored Division
credit for being the first to fire a shell into Germany, to breach
the Siegfried line, and the first to cross the German border
since Napoleon, as well as the first to capture a German town
(Roetgen) and the first to shoot down a plane from German soil.
"Gen. Patton did not do that stuff ... he wasn't anywhere
near it," Mischnick recollected. "The media wanted
to make a hero out of somebody and he was more than willing."
NOTE: The original newspaper story included a fine
photo of Marvin taken in 2002. Unfortunately, the xerox of that
newspaper photo (that we have) is too poor to reproduce here.
The photo caption read as follows:
Above, U.S. Army veteran Marvin Mischnick holds a camera he
used during World War II as he talks about his experiences as
an Army photographer. He used the small 35mm [and 4x5 camera]
to capture images of battle and the daily life of American soldiers
and visiting celebrities such as Jack Benny and Edward G. Robinson.
Mischnick of Elmhurst was on the front lines shooting - not a
gun but his camera - during World War II. In the above right
photo, from a keepsake album, are generals conferring at Les
Oubeaux, France, in 1944. They include Dwight D. Eisenhower (from
left), Leroy H. Watson, Charles Corlett and Omar Bradley.