Wounded GI left for dead and the Medic who saved him meet in traffic

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Senior Airman
Jan 21, 2007
Brunswick, MD
I debated where to put this, the "Stories" section was mostly pilots stuff and this is about infantrymen. I was moved by this story though.

Fated to Be Friends
one defied orders to leave the other behind to die; decades later, the rescuer saw his patient in traffic: 2 chance encounters sparked a lifelong 2-member fraternity

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 1, 2007

George Serkedakis and Ken Myers may have been in their last parade.

They rode together on Memorial Day in a parade in the District, a couple of elderly vets of the Battle of the Bulge in a ceremonial Jeep. But Myers is closing in on 87, and Serkedakis, at 93, is finding it harder to muster the energy. They have nothing planned for the Fourth of July; neither is sure he will make it to the 99th Infantry Division Reunion in September.

"I was really scared he was going to fall out of that Jeep," says Serkedakis's wife, Faye, 70, on recalling her husband's last public excursion. "They are slowing down now, for sure."

But even as they bow, finally, to the inevitable struggles of age, the two still make a point of getting together. It has been more than 30 years since they rediscovered one another, but they still thrive on rehashing the remarkable fate that brought them together twice. Once on a blood- and snow-covered battlefield in Belgium, where one saved the life of the other, saved it against the direct orders of an Army doctor who had already consigned the wounded soldier to a Belgian grave. And again, three decades later, in a traffic jam in downtown Washington.

They meet regularly, as they did last week in Serkedakis's Silver Spring living room, simply to tell each other The Story.

* * *

It's easier to start with Serki's side of the tale. He doesn't remember much.

In December 1944, Cpl. George Serkedakis was only a few weeks into Europe. Riding shotgun in an infantry truck, he and the 99th were moving fast across France and Holland through deep snow and killing cold. It was six months after D-Day, and the Allies had been steadily pushing Hitler back toward the Fatherland. Now the Germans turned to make one last ferocious stand in Belgium.

Serkedakis, the 30-year-old owner of a Greek diner on Capitol Hill, was riding right into the teeth of the Battle of the Bulge.

"I didn't have a gun. I had a bazooka," he recalled. He still has the soft eyes and placid smile of the young soldier who stares up from the faded photographs on his coffee table. "We came into the village, and the Germans were coming in with six tanks."

Serkedakis isn't sure exactly where he was. He remembers getting off a round that exploded on one of the panzers. And then, nothing. A blissful void that has spared him the lifelong memory of what it's like to have the top of your skull shot away.

He doesn't know how many hours passed before a scrap of consciousness returned. With a colossal effort, he raised his head from the snow. Two figures moved through the weak gray of the winter morning. They were working on another man. But finally one of them turned his way. And he let his face fall back into the cold.

He remembers the motion of a litter. He remembers an argument. He remembers: "I told you to leave him. He's dead."

And this: "He moved his head."

"Leave him! That's an order."

And then, more nothing. A truck, a rough ride, more cold. More nothing.

It was weeks later when he finally, fully awoke in a British hospital. He tried to stand and ended up with both legs jammed into a single pajama leg. The bandage around his head covered a hole the size of a pear.

"It took me a long time to heal," he said. "I was dizzy all the time. I couldn't walk without crutches for four years. I'm still not completely healed."

His wife runs a hand through the wispy white hair over the pronounced dip in his scalp. They will celebrate their 50th anniversary in October.

A hospital ship brought Serkedakis home to other hospitals, and he eventually returned to Washington. He was rated disabled by the Army, but he worked a bit in the family restaurant, the Majestic at 210 Second St. SE. He drove a cab some. He moved to Silver Spring. He had two sons. He was happy.

But he still didn't know whom to thank for saving his life.

And then one day in the 1970s, he was driving a cab near 18th and I streets. Traffic thickened. He heard a voice.

"Hey buddy. Hey buddy."

Serkedakis looked over at a burly guy in a pickup.

"Does the name Ken Myers mean anything to you?"

It didn't.

"How about the 99th Infantry? Battle of the Bulge?"

Serkedakis stared and said: "Pull over."

They stood on the curb and talked for four hours.

Serkedakis had found the guy to thank. They had been living, all that time, less than five miles apart.

* * *

Ken Myers came home on a hospital ship as well. His war ended when a mortar round blew him off a motorcycle, shattering his right leg. More than 60 years later, he still has pain in his feet. Another piece of shrapnel worked out of his arm three years ago.

Myers returned to Takoma Park, where he was a plumber for the next four decades. He outlived two wives and stays alone in the house he bought in the 1960s. He often sits on the porch, watching over the neighborhood with Gigi, his bichon frise. With the little white dog in his big working-man's hands, he talks about the war in a soft rumble.

"They told us there were two soldiers out there, one dead, one alive," he said of his first morning in that Belgian village, still surrounded by Germans. He was a corpsman in a medical unit. "We found the dead guy. Half of his head had been shot away. We were working on the other one when darned if the dead guy didn't raise his head and look at us."

Myers and the other corpsman carried the living corpse back to an aid station in an abandoned house. There he caught holy hell from a doctor who was a major. The officer took one look at the head, half-caked in ice with a tendril of brain matter hanging from one side, and told him to take the man outside and go back for the living soldier.

"I told him he had moved his head, and I wanted to try to save him," Myers said. "That major was cussing me out so much, I was asking the good Lord for help."

They took the body away, but not to the morgue. They carried him to an abandoned kitchen and laid him on the table. It was 40 degrees below outside and not much warmer in the drafty room.

"The cold kept him from bleeding to death, that's what I think," Myers said.

No one is sure how long Serkedakis stayed hidden. Myers remembers it being more than a week, but in the pitch of battle he can't be sure. He found the dog tags and dubbed his patient Serki. He let sugar cubes dissolve on Serki's lips. When the ice melted, Myers said he used a rolled cloth to gently tease the brain stuff back into the hole. The major, Myers said, never knew.

The rough ride that Serkedakis remembers was in Myers's truck, loaded with 27 wounded men.

"I loaded Serki last," he said. "I had to push his feet over the wheel well and tie him in with ropes."

He drove at night by the light of artillery fire. They reached the field hospital, and he handed Serki over to a swarming team of medics.

Myers went in for his first shower in days.

He stopped by Serkedakis's bed on the way out and was surprised to find him conscious, sort of.

"I said, 'How ya feeling, Serki?' and he said, 'I fell out of bed and I got a headache.' "

Then Myers left.

"I never knew what happened to him after that," he said.

* * *

Never, that is, until a few lifetimes later, when he looked across a lane of D.C. traffic and saw his patient's face framed by a taxi window.

"Hey buddy! Hey buddy!"

That's what Myers and Serki have been ever since: buddies. Dinners together, parades and lots of long, repetitive talk about the same series of events. They don't care if they've been through it a thousand times before.

"The same stories, over and over," said Faye Serkedakis, laughing. "They have a lot of pride about what they went through. They want to hang on to it a little longer."

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