BERWYN – It was a cold, December Sunday, and a young Ed Karasek of Cicero was in his first year at Morton Junior College, studying at home and listening to the Bears game on the radio.
Then, something happened that eventually would lead to a pilot’s uniform, a seat in a cockpit and a chance conversation with a British war hero. It would change his life forever.
Karasek, 92, who has served as a Berwyn Park District commissioner since 1956, remembers well what would come to be known as a date that would live in infamy.
A bulletin interrupted the football game that Sunday as news came of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Like millions of men in World War II, Karasek answered the call of the drum. The following day, Karasek and three friends made the trip into Chicago where they, like thousands of others, waited in lines to enlist in the service. He and his friends chose the Marines.
“We were waiting and waiting,” he said. “Along comes a nice looking girl dressed in blue and gold, carrying a tray with doughnuts and some liquid refreshment, and [she] walks into this room. It was the U.S. Army Air Force Recruiting Office, and I followed her and joined.”
A whirlwind of training followed, with Karasek finally ending up in Union City, Tenn., for flight training.
“We started on a trainer with a civilian instructor,” Karasek said. “You had to solo within four hours of instruction. If you didn’t pass, you washed out.”
He then headed to Newport, Ark., where he would train on a twin-engine open cockpit trainer, followed by advanced training at another base on other multi-engine aircraft. Completing that, he was off to New York to await orders.
“The next thing I knew, we were in Casablanca with the Free French,” he said. “From there, Cairo, then Karachi [Pakistan, formerly India].”
Several stops later, he would arrive in the state of Assam, India, to serve with the 3rd Combat Group, 9th Squadron. He would be flying C-47 cargo planes to support the British 14th Army in its campaign to drive the Japanese out of India and Burma.
“We air-dropped everything and we landed behind [Japanese] lines,” Karasek said. “We were the trucks for the British Army flying over the Jungles of India, then Burma.”
At Christmas in 1944, Karasek was given leave and went to Calcutta for rest and relaxation. While he was on leave, his squadron lost five planes to Japanese Zero fighters.
“After that, we had to fly a lot of missions,” Karasek said.
One day, Karasek’s commander announced everyone with a clean uniform should put it on and report.
Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre, was coming to visit and present the Order of the British Empire to them.
“He came down the line and said to me, ‘Where you from, Yank?’
I sad ‘Cicero,’ and he said, ‘I know Cicero. I honeymooned at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago,” Karasek recalled.
Eventually, Karasek would be shipped home to await deployment elsewhere in the Pacific Theater.
“We were getting ready to go to the Pacific when they dropped the atomic bomb. That was it,” he said. “I was lucky – I didn’t get hurt, malaria, jungle fevers. I got a bunch of air medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross. It was quite a ride.”
Karasek returned to the world, finished his college education at Miami University in Ohio, and came out with a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting. In 1952, he married his wife, Mary, and the couple moved from Cicero to Berwyn in 1956.
That year, he was appointed to serve on the Berwyn Park District Board as a commissioner, which he has served as for the past 47 years. He later would become the first president of the Berwyn Business Association.
“I’m still involved, and will be as long as I can walk and think,” he said.