June 4 – Happy Birthday Edward Partyka

EdPartyka222Albert Partyka came to Amsterdam from Poland at the beginning of the 20th Century, but unlike so many of his fellow countrymen, he did not go to work in Amsterdam’s rug mills. Instead he became a builder and started his own contracting business. A few years later, he opened up Partyka’s Market, which would become a Reid Hill institution. He also married Mary Przybylo and the couple had five children, three boys and two girls. It is their son Edward who is today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant. Born on June 4, 1923, he graduated from Lynch High School 18 years later and got a job at the former American Locomotive Company plant in Schenectady. He then joined the US Navy in April of 1943 and was serving as a Machinest Mate on a transport and supply ship that was serving US Military bases in the Pacific.

On December 13, 1944, some of his shipmates had transported a work party of Construction Battalion members to an island in the Aleutians. While the ship was sitting off shore, the work party had completed their mission and were in the process of being returned to the ship. Though the weather had been fine all day, a strong unexpected storm had begun to brew and the resulting heavy seas capsized the motorized landing vessel that was being used to transport the SeaBees to and from the island. That’s when Ed Partyka volunteered to return to the island in the ship’s only remaining rescue vessel, a large rowboat, to pick up the three remaining members of the work crew. With his shipmates looking on, the Amsterdam man had almost made it to shore when the huge waves from the raging storm capsized his boat. The officer of the work crew pulled Partyka out of the surf and brought him to shore. Not only had the ship lost both its rescue boats, the storm was now in full force and the gale force winds were endangering the stability of the vessel. It had to be taken out to sea, leaving the work crew and their brave would-be rescuer stranded to deal with one of the worst winter storms in Aleutian Island history.

The captain of the ship had told the officer of the work crew before he went ashore that the only habitation on the entire island was ten miles away from the worksite over horribly rough terrain. That’s where the four crewmembers and Partyka headed when they saw their ship was forced to leave them stranded.

Unfortunately, the same storm that forced the ship back to sea was also making it impossible for the crew to contact the army installation on the other side of the island to let them know the five men were headed their way and to summon a search team to go out and help them get there. It wasn’t until late the next morning that the ship was able to contact the outpost. A rescue crew was able to find three of the C. B.’s but not the fourth one or Partyka.  The Captain of Ed’s ship then talked to one of the rescued men to find out what had happened.

As expected, the five of them had departed from the beach toward the outpost as soon as the ship went back out to sea. The trip turned out to be even rougher than anticipated. The 100-mile per hour wind was accompanied by a pelting snowstorm and plunging nighttime temperatures. They walked all night against the killer wind and made very slow progress. Ed and two of the C.B.’s were having a difficult time keeping up with the other two. It was decided that the two stronger C.B.’s would go on ahead to reach the outpost as fast as they could and summon a rescue team for the three others.

It was at this time that Ed really began experiencing difficulty moving. He complained he was tired and needed to go to sleep. But going to sleep meant freezing to death so he was forced by the others to keep moving. The two C.B.’s he was with reported that they tried to help him along the way, even carrying him at times. It got to a point where one of the C.B.’s also weakened enough that he too needed assistance to continue. At that point the stronger of the two would get Ed to a sheltered spot, leave him there and then go get the other C.B. and bring him to the spot he had left Ed. On one of these maneuvers, the two C.B.s reached the spot where Ed had been left earlier and he wasn’t there. He had wandered off. The two C.B.’s said they searched all over for him but could not find him. Only one of those two remaining C.B.’s was able to get to the outpost. Meanwhile, as soon as the storm subsided the Navy began a huge all-out search effort for the two men that was still going on four months later when the Captain of Ed Partyka’s ship explained all this in a letter addressed to Ed’s dad. His son’s remains have never been recovered.

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