Mecosta man fought in Battle of the Bulge

Eugene Paulino, of Mecosta, who served in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army, poses before a shadowbox containing medals, photos and other keepsakes from his time in the service at his home on Pretty Lake Tuesday. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of a monthly series featuring local veterans of the U.S. military from different, recent eras. It will focus on both the era in which they served as well as issues they faced before and after their service. If you or someone you know has a story to share, email trath@pioneergroup.com.

MECOSTA — Eugene Paulino used to find it difficult to tell the full story of what happened during his time in World War II, as a member of the U.S. Army.

That all changed a few years ago, Paulino’s wife Marion said, when a granddaughter of his married a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Paulino finally found someone he could relate to, his wife said, and has since felt more comfortable sharing his memories. They are often heroic recollections, but can be painful and tragic as well.

“He has held it in for so long and now he talks about it more. You can tell it hurts him to think about it, but he has a story to tell,” said Marion Paulino, who last year celebrated 70 years of marriage with Eugene. “I’m very proud of his service, we all are. But I tell him, ‘I’ll be glad when you stop fighting this war.'”

Back in the mid-1940s, Eugene Paulino was eager to start fighting in the war. He was the second-youngest of six children born to an Irish-American mother, who was a homemaker, and an Italian immigrant father, who shoveled sugar beets and coal onto railcars on the north end of Lansing.

“We never had a car, so any place my father went, he had to take the bus or walk,” Eugene Paulino, 92, said. “Any time the kids were coming, we all got in a red wagon. We didn’t have a table. Our chairs were made of orange crates. My father worked hard, but it wasn’t easy.”

Paulino’s three older brothers, Rex, Leo and Danny, were already serving in the military by the time Eugene dropped out of school in order to enlist himself. He was driven by feelings of patriotism, he said, and a desire to stop the threat of Nazi Germany from taking over Europe.

But helping America in the war effort wasn’t easy. At the mere age of 17, he was shipped to fight in bloody conflicts on the fight lines of northern France, Belgium and Germany. Under orders from the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, Paulino was part of a group charged with clearing German soldiers from small villages taken by the Allies.

“Ike said, ‘We want the lines straight,’ so we’d walk 30 or 40 miles a day and fight at night,” Paulino recalled. “It was really dangerous. There were times I’d go in one side of a house, looking for Germans, and my buddy would go in the other side, and you had to make sure you didn’t shoot each other. We used code words to tell us apart.”

Paulino recalled coming across an abandoned factory filled with German soldiers, who were holding women captive for the purpose of forced procreation. For rescuing the women, he was later awarded a Bronze Star.

“There was a girl there who came out and started yelling, ‘Are we free?’ I said, ‘You’ll be free in a little bit. I just have to do something about these soldiers first,'” Paulino said. “These girls are grabbing me and kissing me and knocking me down, so happy to be out of there. They were making blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies, a half-dozen girls. I never saw anything like that before.”

Paulino celebrated his 18th birthday (“sitting behind a tree, shooting at Germans,” he said) during the famous Battle of the Bulge, the largest single battle fought by the United States in WWII. He survived the battle, but suffered a terrible blow when a house he and his fellow soldiers had sought cover in was hit by artillery fire. The force of the blast knocked Paulino from the roof of the house to the basement and knocked him out.

Having suffered a concussion, he awoke at a hospital in Le Havre, France. There, it was determined he was no longer able to serve in the infantry.

“As soon as I woke up, a man showed up with a piece of paper that said I was supposed to go to Le Havre and board a ship,” Paulino recalled. “I said, ‘How am I supposed to get there? He said, ‘On that motorcycle,’ and pointed to a motorcycle that was outside. Thankfully, the motorcycle was the kind that had a sidecar, so I didn’t have to drive it.”

Paulino served the remainder of his military tenure aboard a ship, and found out the war was over while stationed in the Philippines. From there, he was sent to San Francisco before returning home.

Paulino was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign medal with three bronze stars, the World War II Victory medal and the Army of Occupation medal with Germany clasp. He left the military with the rank of technical sergeant.

Not long after coming home, he met a girl while ice skating at Bancroft Park in Lansing, Marion Weeks. They married two years later and eventually had eight children. Paulino worked for 40 years in the manufacturing industry, making windows and doors for homes, before leaving his company. The couple built a home on Pretty Lake in 1989; they have lived there ever since.

“I’ve lived a good life,” Paulino said. “I’m proud of my service.”

Paulino and his three brothers survived the war, but not without painful reminders of it. Eugene suffers from neuropathy (nerve damage) in his lower legs, as a result of all the walking he had to do, often in terrible weather conditions. He’s also dealt with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They were wearing socks and boots that didn’t do any good in the water and the snow,” Marion Paulino said. “It’s a shame the military didn’t do more to protect those guys.”

Leave a Reply