Monday, June 27, 2011

Wojtek: A True Soldier

Wojtek served under the the Polish Army, and was formally drafted in the 22nd Artillery Supply Company in order to get him into a British transport ship when the unit was traveling to Egypt. Why was it that he needed to be drafted? Because the British High Command didn't allow pets or animals in the camps. Pesty British right? Hold on, what's that? Oh yeah, Wojtek was a Syrian Brown Bear.

Wojtek was discovered by a young local while he was still a young bear cub, and was eventually sold to Polish Soldiers. The bear cub was originally from the Hamadan mountain regions, but his mother was killed by a party of hunters. For about 3 months, the bear cub was off in the world alone to scavenge for food by himself, he was later discovered by a Iranian boy which took him in. In around 1942, Polish Soldiers discovered the boy between the Hamadan mountains area during a rest stop, they discovered a oddly shaped sack with the boy and they asked to see what was in the sack. They discovered a under-nourished starving bear cub and they all agreed to purchase the bear cub from the boy. The Polish Soldiers nourished it back to health with a empty vodka bottle filled with diluted condensed milk. Sometimes they mixed alcohol with the milk by accident, and later on in the bears life he developed a taste for beer.

The bear lived, slept, ate, and even drank with the Polish Soldiers. He was fed fruits, marmalade, honey and syrup, but oftentimes was rewarded with beer. Vojtek loved cigarettes, but not to smoke, but rather eat. He only liked eating lit cigarettes, and would spit back out unlit cigarettes. How dare someone expect him to eat a unlit cigarette? That's just unmoral! 

Wojtek usually drank with his fellow soldiers, and would succumb to the same effects we humans get when drinking as well, though even when drunk, he always remained good, hearty bear. As a common past time, Wojtek was often found wrestling with the fellow polish soldiers. He was a fierce fighter, but a nice guy bear and would sometimes allow his opponent to win. He was taught to salute when greeted, and became more of a man then a majority of young adults today! He became a attraction towards soldiers and citizens alike; He soon became the unofficial mascot the entire company.

When his company joined the British to go into Egypt to fight in the Italian Campaign, he officially joined the 22nd Company as a real genuine soldier. Now as I said before, Wojtek served his service as a true soldier. Now he didn't pick up a rifle and start shooting at the enemy, but provided assistance whenever possible. 

According to multiple accounts, and first during the battle of Monte Cassino, he helped his friends by carrying ammunition. He watched as his friends loaded and unloaded crates and crates of supplies, eventually he went up to a supply van, and stood on his hind legs, extending his paws out waiting for someone to give him something to carry. He easily lifted heavy crates of ammunition, and other supplies from one van to another. During all of this, he made careful consideration to not dropping a single crate or bullet on the ground. The 22nd Transport Company provided about 17, 320 tons of ammunition, 1,200 tons of fuel, and 1,116 tons of food for Polish and British troops during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Soon, Woktek became a celebrity for his contributions for the Allied victory and soon, a picture of him carrying a artillery shell became an official army symbol for the 22nd Compant. Let's see your picture become get on a badge, anywhere.

They smacked this on every uniform and vehicle. Most likely to emphasize to the enemy who they're dealing with.

Wojtek served as a blessing to the 22nd Company, not only by simply carrying crates, but boosting moral of the his fellow soldiers, and scaring the crap out of the enemy. "HOOKEY CRACKERS OF JAM! THEY'VE GOT A BLOODY BEAR ON THEIR SIDE!" In fact, in one case, Wojtek discovered how to use the shower room, and one day while he was taking a bath, he came across a spy that planned to gather intelligence on the Allied Camp. Wojtek growled and gave the guy a good smack, and he quickly surrendered. The enemy agent in turn, was interrogated, and gave up important information about enemy positions. 
After the war, he was given to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he spent the last of his days. His many companions during the war gathered at the zoo to give their heart-felt goodbyes towards the bear that once enjoyed so much freedom and fun, now confined into a cage. Wojtek would have probably wanted to have spent the rest of his days with his old friends from the war wrestling and drinking in glee, but he was put there in the zoo for "safe keeping". Wojtek walked into the cage on his own accord, and accepted the fact that his glory days were over.

On the positive side, many of his old war buddies visited him often, and would climb over the fence and wrestle with Wojtek, and some would even throw him cigarettes to him through the bars. Wojtek only responded towards Polish visitors that spoke in their native tongue, so towards others, he was just another sleeping aging bear. 

Finally, he died on the cold month of December in 1963 at the age of 22. At the time of death, he weighed about 500 pounds, and over six feet tall. He may be dead now, but his story still lives on.

God bless Americ- Wojtek.