Samuel Ivo Vacek (19 May 1896 - 2 December 1975) served in the United States Marine Raider Division from 1917 to 1919. He is notable for being the first member of the division to be captured as a POW as well as a member of the Bonus Army march against Washington DC.
Family and Early Life Edit
Samuel's parents, Petr (Anglicized to Peter) and Hana (Anglicized to Hanna) were Czechs who had immigrated from the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1887, seeking opportunity in the United States. Having come by way of Ellis Island, Peter and Hanna Vacek moved out west to North Dakota and settled in the town of Park River, which had been founded just three years before. Peter worked as a clockmaker who built and repaired clocks in his shop in town. In 1891 Hanna gave birth to their first son, Michael, and in 1896, to Samuel.
Samuel attended school in Park River, with his older brother and younger sister, Katherine. After school, he found a job at a local factory and continued to support his family with his earnings. Having expressed desire to leave his small town, Samuel Vacek enlisted in the United States Marine Raider Division on June 22, 1917, two months after the declaration of war on Germany.
Military Service Edit
Vacek was assigned to the 1st Platoon of H Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment. He was moved to Massachusetts, where he completed his training, and left New York harbor on a ship bound for France in October. Once there, Private Vacek's unit received further instruction in the new kind of warfare by British soldiers who were veterans of the trenches. He recieved a promotion to corporal in December. Vacek's unit was moved to the front lines in April 1918, where he quickly learned the harsh reality of this kind of war. "I can hardly stand it here, and I've only been here for a few months," he wrote in a letter home, "these British boys have put up with it for three years!"
In May, Corporal Vacek's company faced the brunt of a German artillery attack which injured a large number of men. Vacek was spared, though. Later in the month, the 1st Regiment was ordered to take the town of Catigny, the first offensive action taken by the marine raiders in World War I. Samuel Vacek went over the top on the 28th of May, and attacked the German lines with his company. They pushed through the first trench line with ease, but Cpl. Vacek's squad found itself isolated in taking out a German machine gun position. In this action, Cpl. Vacek was captured and taken behind the German lines as a prisoner, the first marine raider to do so. He was first moved behind the lines away from the battle, where he was searched. Vacek reportedly took his watch, a valuable one made personally for him by his father, and smashed it with his boot heel to prevent his captors from taking it. After a short interrogation, during which he refused to give away any information to the enemy, Cpl. Vacek was taken by train to a POW camp in Metz, then part of the German Empire.
Little is known about Cpl. Vacek's time in the camp, but he befriended several British and French prisoners while there. He took part in Catholic services provided by the camp. After mass one Sunday, Vacek found himself part of an escape plan being masterminded by French and Irish prisoners who met briefly after the service every week. The objective was to dig a tunnel from a bunk house to a single blind spot that could not be seen by German sentries. The prisoners worked on the tunnel at a random time every week so as not to arouse suspicion. Vacek kept watch for the prisoners and found ways to subtly tell them if they were in danger of discovery. The tunnel took approximately three months to complete before the prisoners were able to use it.