I might not have made it if it hadn't been for Pappy. Already a Special Forces soldier, Stefan "Pappy" Mazak joined our class to continue his training, which is required of a Green Beret. Pappy was a Czechoslovakian who had entered the Special Forces at a time when many of the Green Berets were foreigners. He had been a French resistance fighter in World War II, and as a Special Forces member was well known for his gallantry.
One of the military stories about Mazak concerned his actions in the Belgian Congo. A surge of violence swept over this huge expanse of land, and most of it was directed against the white settlers, many of them American. Pappy was chosen from among the ranks of the Special Forces to help those settlers in remore areas who were without any security.
Lieutenant Frank Fontaine led a team that was attempting to rescue a priest and twelve refugees, of which six were nuns. To reach them, Fontaine's men walked to a village near an airstrip in Gwendje. The refugees' condition was shocking; the nuns had been brutally raped and were in desperate need of medical attention. Fointaine reached Mazak by portable radio and told him to locate a platoon of Belgian paratroopers and get to Gwendje fast.
As Fontaine approached the field, he was surrounded by a screaming band of about fifty threatening, gun-toting rebels. He singled out the most likely leader, and invited him outside the circle for a private conversation. The self-styled leader informed Fontaine that "all whites were to die."
Fontaine produced a grenade, pulled the pin, and (held it out) to the leader. "Okay, boss, shoot me. I will die but we will die together." For two hours the stare-down continued, with Fontaine acutely aware that he could not hold the grenade firing lever forever.
Mazak had been notified by the circling planes about the situation on the ground, and he instructed his pilot to make an emergency bush landing outside the sight line of landing strip. On the ground, Mazak emerged from the bush holding two submachine guns.
Across the runway ran Mazak, all five feet two inches and one hundred and eighty pounds of charging rhinoceros. He fired wildly into the air as he screamed French Legionnaire profanities at the top of his lungs. Fontaine saw the fear in the eyes of his chief opponent and tossed the grenade into the midst of his captors.
The remaining live rebels ran screaming into the bush, abandoning not only the refugees but their arms as well. Within minutes the refugees were airborne and headed for safety. Later the normally subdued Mazak apologized to Fontaine for his outburst of theatrics, but stated, "I just couldn't think of anything else to do at that moment."
When Fontaine asked Mazak about the Belgian paratroopers he had requested, Mazak stated that he couldn't wait for the slowpokes to effect the rescue, that he knew that he was the only one available at the time.
As our instructor relayed the details of Mazak's action in class that day, my eyes became fixed on Mazak. A man shorter in stature than even I. I observed his humility as the story, all of us in the room rose to attention almost simultaneously without being ordered. Our instructor offered Pappy the greatest compliment he could muster when he said, "Detail face Sergeant Mazak. Present arms! Order arms!"
Our instructor asked Mazak if he would honor the group with some comments or reflections. It was extremely difficult to coax him to his feet, but we all insisted that we wanted him to speak. He slowly rose, and every eye in the room was glued to him. Pappy apologized profusely about his poor English and made it clear that he was a man of few words. What words they were! I shall never forget them.
Pappy reflected: "We in this room are all men who believe that actions speak louder then words. If I can impart anything from my life as a soldier it is this: There are only two types of warrior in this world. Those that serve tyrants and those that serve free men. I have chosen to serve free men, and if we as warriors serve free men, we must love freedom more than we love our own lives. It is a simple philosophy but one that has served me well in life."
At that moment I was drawn to this aging gladiator like metal to a magnet. Here was a man that I could identify with, and here was a man that I could learn from.
Since Pappy didn't speak English very well, studying was hard for him. I approached him and suggested that we pair up as study partners, and he liked the idea. My own lack of formal education made us a perfect team. We struggled, but we made it through. -- Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez, Unites States Army Special Forces (Retired), in Medal of Honor: One Man's Journey from Poverty and Prejudice.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
"There are only two types of warrior in this world. Those that serve tyrants and those that serve free men."
"I have chosen to serve free men, and if we as warriors serve free men, we must love freedom more than we love our own lives." -- Sergeant First Class Stefan Mazak, 5th Special Forces Group, born Czechoslovakia 23 March 1926, served the French Maquis during World War Two and later with the French Foreign Legion, served with 10th SFG in Congo, 1960, killed in action 18 April 1968, Long Khanh Province, Republic of South Vietnam.