101-year-old WWII veteran from Norwood Park heading to Europe for ‘Operation Pheasant’ re-enactment ceremonies
by BRIAN NADIG
Longtime Norwood Park area resident Frank Fabianski, a 101-year-old World War II veteran, is returning to Europe this week for a re-enactment of Operation Pheasant, the mission in which Allied Force cleared German troops from parts of the Netherlands.
He now lives at the Amazing Grace Senior Living, 7432 W. Talcott Ave.
Fabianski, who went to Lane Tech High School, enlisted in the military in 1942 at the age of 21 despite having a low lottery number for the draft. “My buddies were all gone. What was I going to do here?” he said.
He served as a cryptographer in the 104th Infantry Division, which was part of Operation Pheasant. He role was to decipher coded messages which U.S. generals sent each other so that their contents could remain hidden in the event the communications fell into the wrong hands.
Special machines were used for the decoding. “They were kept in two safes,” he said, adding that the cryptographers had to go through extensive background checks given the sensitive nature of the messages.
Fabianski was in multiple countries during the war, suffering an injury while in Germany in 1944 and earning a Purple Heart. His brothers Ed and Chester also served, and Ed was able to visit him during his recovery.
Toward the end of his service, Fabianski was present for the liberation of a the Nordhausen concentration camp in Germany. “It was terrible,” he said. “Some were alive. A lot of them were dead.”
After the war, Fabianski went back to his grocery warehouse manager job and in 1947 he got married. He and Antoinette had five children.
His daughter Paulette Stith, son-in-law Ed Stith and granddaughter Julie Donner, a social studies teacher, will accompany him on his trip, where he will fly to Brussels on Oct. 18-19 and return to Chicago on Oct. 31.
His schedule includes a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Michael Adler, attending mock battles and several ceremonies, and visiting the 104th Infantry Timberwolves museum in Holland. He also will be reviewing the troops during one of the re-enactment.
“I’m honored (to be going),” Fabianski said of the trip. “I didn’t expect anything like this.”
His daughter Paulette said that the family first heard of the event in August, and that plans were quickly worked out, as organizers were looking for Timberwolf veterans to attend. They will be picked up at the airport, transported to all events and have access to a nurse, she said.
She said that asked her father if he wanted to perhaps come home a couple days early but that he insisted on staying to the last day because it includes a visit to a cemetery where he remembers one of his friends being buried.
“That would be disrespectful,” he said of not going to the cemetery.
The trip also could include a few surprises.
A picture of a family who washed the clothes of U.S. soldiers from Operation Pheasant is being published overseas, and Fabianski remembers paying to have his clothes washed.
The picture includes an approximately 10-year-old girl and baby, and event organizers are happy that someone from the family is alive and can attend.
(In the one photo, Frank is with his brother Ed, who visited Frank while he was recovering from his injury.)