Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is set aside each year to honor the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country, Veterans Day, on Nov. 11 is celebrated each year to honor all living veterans; those who faced death and lived, and those who continue to serve today. Their stories, when given the opportunity, should be told.
The story of the late Ernest Poland Sr., of Bremen, is one told by his military records, preserved by his late wife, and now shared by his children. A veteran of World War II, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Poland passed away in 1980 without sharing with his family or friends the details of the many citations and decorations he received for meritorious service during the war.
During his tour of duty with the 444th Bombardment Squadron between November 1943 and March 1945, Poland flew 83 combat missions as the tail gunner on a B-26 bomber. According to historical sources, the average life expectancy for a tail gunner serving in the Eighth Air Force in late 1943 was only 11 missions.
According to Poland’s military records, he fought in Italian campaigns including Naples-Foggia; Rome-Arno; North Apennines; the Rhineland, and Southern France.
For his bravery in combat he was cited by General Charles de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic and Chief of the Armies. The citation credits Poland for his “outstanding part in the preparation and support of the Allied offensive in Italy … attacking and destroying many most of the important objectives in support of the French Army, despite intense, heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire.”
He received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with five stars and the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, the latter for his meritorious service during an attack upon a road bridge near Rieti, Italy on June 5, 1944.
In February 1945, Poland was commended for his actions in combat while on a mission to bomb enemy barracks in Lahr, Germany. He also received two other citations for meritorious achievements that are not in his paper work. Each cluster reflects a citation.
Sgt. Poland’s unit also received the Distinguished Unit Citation, which was given to units for extraordinary heroism in action against armed enemy on or after Dec. 7, 1941, and he was also awarded the Good Conduct medal.
Before his military career, Poland worked with his father, LaForest Poland, as a lobsterman, and boat builder. He married his childhood sweetheart Arlene, and the couple was expecting their first child when Poland entered the military April 21, 1943. He did his basic training at Fort Devens in Massachusetts and completed gunnery training at Fort Myers in Florida.
Before he was sent overseas, he came home on leave, to visit his wife Arlene and welcome the birth of his first child, Ernest Jr.
After the war, Poland was honorably discharged, returning home to his wife and young son in September 1945. He went back to work lobster fishing and settled in to civilian life in the town in which he was born and raised.
Ernest Sr. and Arlene had six more children, Ronald, Ann, Leatrice, Bruce, Frances, and Lois. Frances passed away in 2011.
Two of Poland’s sons also served in the U.S Army during the Vietnam War. Ronald mustered out before his unit was sent overseas, but his brother Bruce served in Vietnam.
During a recent interview with Ronald and Lois, the Polands described their father as a man who worked very hard to provide for his family. He instilled a strong work ethic in his children and was as honest as the day is long.
The Polands said their mother was the authoritarian in the family as far as the children were concerned. Because she was a stay at home mom, their father was the bread winner.
They said their father enjoyed the simple things in life, never had much interest in traveling too far from home.
Ernest Poland Sr. died at the age of 60 on Feb. 17, 1980, suffering a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow. Ronald said he remembers the day; he had gone down to plow his parents out and told his dad not to shovel by himself; Ronald said he would be right back to shovel him out.
True to form, Ernest Sr. didn’t wait. He started to do the shoveling, had a heart attack and died there in his driveway. He was a proud man, and a stubborn man, Ronald Poland said.
Although Sgt. Poland is not longer here, his legacy of service to his country, his family and his town will live on through his children and grandchildren still living in the area is carrying on the tradition of lobstering, and boat building.