George Koskimaki

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George Koskimaki was a, teacher, military historian and author of three books on United States military operations in the European Theatre of World War II, particularly operations carried out by the 101st Airborne Division.

Koskimaki was born in Ishpeming, MI August 21, 1922 and raised in L’Anse, where he graduated high school. Midway through obtaining his degree from NMU, he enlisted in the Army and became and joined the famous 101st Airborne Division, known as The Screaming Eagles. He was a paratrooper and radio operator for the 101st’s commander General Maxwell Taylor.

After World War II, Koskimaki returned to NMU to finish his degree, majoring in Biology and Physical Education. While at Northern, he played Fullback for the football team.

After graduating he attended Wayne State University and earned his masters degree in Education before joining the faculty of Roseville High School. For over thirty years, he taught Biology and Physical education while coaching basketball, and later becoming the athletic director for the school district.

After retiring, Koskimaki served as the Executive Secretary of the 101st Airborne Division Association.

Koskimaki’s novels primarily consist of hundreds of stories from U.S. veterans that were directly involved in the operations the each book focuses on, with Koskimaki acting as an editor and expert on the subject matter. In 1970, he published D-Day with the Screaming Eagles, which houses anecdotal accounts of 518 members of the 101st Airborne who were involved in the Allied invasion of Normandy in June, 1944 (Operation Overlord). The book has been praised as a compilation of primary source material from the D-Day invasion.

Koskimaki’s other novels, Hell’s Highway and The Battered Bastards of Bastogne are written in the same style of compilation. Hell’s Highway compiled 609 recollections of soldiers involved in Operation Market Garden, history’s largest airborne operation at the time, and The Battered Bastards of Bastogne features 530 recollections from veterans who participated in the Siege of Bastogne in December, 1944. Koskimaki donated the proceeds from each of his books to the 101st Airborne Association. As a soldier, Koskimaki was directly involved in each of the invasions his books cover.

 

50th Anniversary Looms Ahead

George Koskimaki, 1992

This is the time period during which the actions of World War II of 50 years ago are generating renewed interest on the part of the reading public.

The following material may be of interest to area readers.

As a native of L’Anse, Michigan (born in Ishpeming), having graduated from that high school in 1940, and having enlisted in the U.S. Army midway through my college years from northern Michigan Teachers College, I found myself assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I had my basic training with the glider troops and eventually became a radio operator in the Division Signal Company.

After the Division arrived in England in the fall of 1943, I volunteered for parachute training when the Division decided a parachute echelon was needed for headquarters for combat missions. I was then assigned as radioman to the commanding general, Maxwell D. Taylor, and parachuted with him into Normandy shortly after midnight on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (My D-Day experiences appeared in the Daily Mining Journal during July of 1944.)

My combat assignments were always to provide communications for the Division commanders and in that role I again parachuted into Holland for the Market-Garden venture in September 1944 and provided radio communications for General A.C. “Tony” McAuliffe at Bastogne.

After the war, when I had returned to Northern to complete my work on a science/physical education degree I received a letter from the writers who had been assigned to write the history of the 101st Airborne Division. They had somehow got wind of the fact that I had kept a diary throughout the war (I never carried it in combat but kept my notes on onion-skin sheets from radio message books—if in danger of capture, I would have chewed my notes and swallowed them).

Several years into my teaching career at Roseville High School, my wife reminded me that I should write of my wartime experiences before they slipped too far back into the recesses of my memories.

Thus my first-hand historical account, D-Day with the Screaming Eagles, came into being in 1970. It has now been printed three times. A total of 518 former paratroopers, gliderman, and French civilians contributed their stories which I fitted together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. Both generals, Taylor and McAuliffe sent their experiences and the division chief of staff, Gerard J. Higgins, write the foreword.

The second account, Hell’s highway, is the story of our campaign in Holland starting with Market-Garden and the two months spent a few miles south and west of Arnhem where the British lost 8,000 of its elite 1st Airborne Division. The 82nd and 101st American Airborne Divisions were assigned to the British Army for Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery to use in his planned grand strategy to make an end run around the flank of the German armies to bring the war to a quick end. Thought the immediate thrust to Berlin did not materialize, the two American airborne divisions did capture key bridges and secure a 45-mile length of highway so the tanks and infantry to the British XXX Corps could move forward to relieve the airborne troops at Arnhem. The difficulties encountered by the Americans in keeping the corridor open while the enemy attacked in strength along various points of the road caused them to name the road “Hell’s Highway”.

Hell’s Highway has the stories of 612 individuals including troop carrier pilots and crew members, glider pilots, a British soldier who flew with members of my company, our paratroopers and glidermen, Dutch underground/resistance who were a great help to us, and Dutch citizens who remembered our coming. Hell’s Highway was first printed in 1989 and is now in its second edition. The Dutch translation is also in its second printing.

At the present time I am working on The Battered Bastards of Bastogne (as we were called by the media in those war years), which is the third part of my trilogy on the major campaigns of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II. Five-hundred individuals including our own “Screaming Eagles” plus supporting troops and troop carrier crew members and glider pilots who flew in with much-needed resupplies such as food, medical supplies, ammunition, and gasoline. Many of them were shot down and joined us on the ground to face a continued ordeal. We were surrounded by elements of eight German divisions for a period of six days before General George Patton and the 4th Armored Division broke through to provide relief in the late afternoon of December 26, 1944.

Research for the three books has reunited many long lost comrades.  Recently two former medics, who each thought the other had been killed in the Holland fighting, were made aware that both survived and are making up for lost time joining others at reunions.(1)

Sales of books are handled by the 101st Airborne Division Association, P.O. Box 586, Sweetwater, TN 37874.

I taught biology and ecology at Roseville High School (northeast Detroit suburb) for thirty years and served as basketball coach for twenty-three of those years. Upon retirement from teaching, I served as executive-secretary of the 101st Airborne Division Association for two years and then became an energy analyst for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company for four years. I continue to write a column for the 101st Associations newsletter.

At the present time Eva and I are at our summer cabin near Ishpeming where I continue the task of tying together the Bastogne stories of the men. They Keep nagging me to complete their story quickly while they are still with us to read it.(2)

 

Koskimaki passed away February 6, 2016 in Tilden Township, MI.

  1. There’s a note here in parentheses that reads “In 1993 the 101st Airborne Division will hold its annual reunion at Lansing, Michigan and in 1994, the 50th anniversary of our campaigns will witness large contingents of these men flying back to Europe to revisit their training and battle sites as their last ‘big hurrah’”.

  2. An address and personal information have been redacted from this transcription.
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