Bob Gondek of Toronto has a permanent physical reminder of the fighting in the Italian Campaign during the Second World War. (War Amps photo)

Bob Gondek of Toronto has a permanent physical reminder of the fighting in the Italian Campaign during the Second World War. (War Amps photo)

Reflections from a Veteran

On Remembrance Day this year, many Canadians will be reflecting on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Among those will be war amputee veteran Bob Gondek, of Toronto, who also carries a physical reminder of that pivotal time in history.

At the age of 96, Bob can still vividly recall serving alongside the Allied Forces with the 2nd Polish Corps during the Italian Campaign. “We were climbing a hill, heavily laden with equipment carried by mules,” says Bob. “Germans were above and could easily see us. Their machine gun fire pinned us to the ground. We had to deal with completely unknown terrain and extreme darkness. Finally, I found a soft spot where I could seek temporary shelter. In the morning, I realized I was laying on corpses, buried in shallow graves.”

In 1944, Bob was based outside Loretto, Italy, when heavy gun fire broke out. “Without any order, I crawled up to them [the enemy] and threw a grenade,” says Bob. “I acted instinctively.” After a short period of silence, the enemy began firing mortars. “I remember an explosion and the smell of gunpowder,” he says. “I then realized that my weapon was gone and, in the place where my hand held the machine gun, there was nothing – I had lost part of my left arm below the elbow. I felt like I was dying because my whole life flashed before my eyes.”

Bob also had extensive injuries around his leg and hip and spent five months recovering in the hospital.

He was awarded the Virtuti Militari, the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross, for his valour in destroying two enemy machine gun nests. He also received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restitua from Poland, the Cross of Valour, Merit Cross, Second Corps Army Medal and Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross.

In 1954, Bob immigrated to Canada where he became a member of The War Amps, an Association originally started by amputee veterans returning from the First World War to help each other adapt to their new reality as amputees.

Bob has dedicated a lifetime of service to The War Amps, holding various positions within the Association. He also became an inspiration to other amputees, showing them that an amputation is not a barrier to living a full and active life. “You have to teach by example,” says Bob. “I don’t have an arm, but I enjoyed playing golf.”

Over the years, Bob has helped educate the younger generation about the horrors of war by going to schools and giving speeches to students. For the last 50 years on Remembrance Day, he has also laid a wreath to honour his comrades.

“I’m grateful that I have been able to take part in these ceremonies. It’s important to me that I pay tribute to my fellow veterans and all those who lost their lives,” says Bob.

Remembrance Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Paramedics Andrew Mills, left, and Rick Harwood are up from Victoria to help out local ambulance crews. (Photo courtesy BC Emergency Health Services)
Extra paramedics sent to Terrace

Area is experiencing high number of COVID cases

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Security has been stepped up at both Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, pictured here, and at Kitimat General Hospital in Kitimat. (File photo)
Stillbirth reaction leads to more hospital security

Staff, physicians facing threats and harassment

The Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School in Hazelton is being shut down for a week by the Gitanmaax Band Council following a confirmation of a COVID-19 exposure there on Feb. 26. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Hazelton school COVID-19 closure extended one week

With spring break on horizon, Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary will be closed to end of March

There were 31 new COVID-19 cases in the Terrace local health area during the week of Feb. 21 to Feb. 27, 2021. (BC Centre for Disease Control)
Northwest B.C. remains a COVID-19 hot spot

There were 31 new cases reported in the Terrace local health area between Feb. 21 and Feb. 27

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

This photo of Cheryl-Lynn Townsin and her daughter, Lexi, is part of Townsin’s documentary, RARE HUMANS - Turning Hope into Action, her capstone project for her graduate degree from Royal Roads University. (Photo courtesy of Cheryl-Lynn Townsin)
Vancouver Island mom’s grief fuels documentary of ‘Turning Hope into Action’

Lexi, 6, died in 2019 from Blau Syndrome and is among the children documented

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Most Read