Centenarian WWII Veteran Survives Two Global Pandemics

By Thomas Brading

At 101 years old, Milton Zaczek, a World War II veteran, has done something very few have: survived two global pandemics.

In November, the centenarian tested positive for COVID-19 after checking in at the emergency department at the Northern Arizona Health Care System in Prescott shortly after his birthday.

To date, there have been more than half a million coronavirus cases in Arizona, resulting in 10,000 deaths.

For Zaczek, it was a battle he was already familiar with fighting. The recent diagnosis went full-circle back to 1919 when he survived the Spanish flu as an infant.

“My brother was taking care of me while my parents were working,” he said, recalling his first bout with a global pandemic. “He was 20 years old, and I got very sick. He wrapped me in a blanket and rushed me to the clinic down the block.”

Answering the call to serve

Years later, Zaczek grew up in Maryland, where his daughter still lives, and occupied his early years with sports. It wasn’t until the early 1940s when he left home under the cloth of the U.S. Army.

From 1941 to 1945, Zaczek served as an infantryman, fighting on the frontlines of WWII, a role he looks back on “like it was yesterday.”

“I can clearly remember fighting against the Japanese,” he said. “They opened up with a machine gun on my squad. The guy next to me was shot, and I pulled him out of the line of fire and did what I could until the medics arrived.”

Once the soldier was pulled to safety, Zaczek applied a tourniquet on him until medics arrived, he said. Years later, the wounded soldier thanked Zaczek for saving his life.

In addition to his tour in Japan, he also served in Australia, New Guinea, the Panama Canal, Germany and the Philippines.

While in the Philippines, Zaczek and the 158th Infantry Regiment – nicknamed “The Bushmasters” – were ordered to overtake an enemy’s mountainside position under heavy artillery fire.

With the deck stacked against them, the Bushmasters took the huge mountain. “Our team completed the mission and saved a nearby village,” he said. “My unit received a presidential citation for our actions.”

Photo credit DVIDS Courtesy Photo

Milton Zaczek serving in World War II.

Overcoming his second pandemic illness

Fast forward to 2020, and the veteran was planning to spend time with a friend before feeling unwell. Despite taking precautions to avoid the airborne threat, he came down with the coronavirus.

Although falling sick with COVID-19 can be scary for anyone, he maintained a positive outlook. “I do not fear anything because I put my trust in the Lord,” he said.

In fact, Dr. Kara Johnson, his primary care provider, said she “loved working with Milton [because] he has given me hope. He has helped me see that we all can push through and live our lives.”

“People are fragile in their everyday lives and feel like they have to do it alone, but they don’t,” Zaczek said. “They can ask for help, hang in there and hope for the best. Many people have a defeated attitude, but there is hope.”

-This article was originally published on Army.mil. It has been edited for USO.org.

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