“I was fourteen when I decided to join the army in 1941. Most of us wanted adventure and to avenge Romania’s losses from the previous year. With the help of my older sister, I faked my birth certificate and went to the recruiters and told them I was sixteen. I did look old for my age. The sergeant there laughed and said ‘Hell you’re not! You’re a seventeen year old man!’
Two weeks later, I found myself in Odessa, Ukraine with other boys from my town. We spent a couple weeks in Odessa before moving on to Crimea. The combat there was just crazy. Guys falling left and right but we got through it. Sevastopol ended up being where I got my orders to transfer to the Don region next to Stalingrad. It was colder than hell on that steppe. The Russians shelled us day and night as we awaited in this hole for that hell to end. Our bunker or hole, whatever you want to call it, was blown up by the Russian artillery. I was the only survivor from my squad.
I was taken prisoner of war and taken to Siberia. The train ride there was like going into a ice box. Men would freeze solid, and we’d throw them out the side of the train for the wolves. I spent a year in the Russian prisons until I was called again to fight for the Russians and go home. Most of us decided to go home and risk dying in combat. Russian veterans from Stalingrad would walk through our ranks and find out who fought at the Don. If you fought at the Don, poof, you’d get a bullet in your head.
I made it back home in 1944 at the age of seventeen and was a squad leader. Me and my childhood friend Nicu were once again thrown into war on the eastern front. We were outside Budapest at a village where Nicu found a sewing machine in a field for his mom. His mom asked him to bring one back if he ever found one. One day, we were patrolling a forest, and Nicu was carrying the stupid machine on his back by the neck when a sniper shot at him… Nicu died instantly from the bullets ricochet that went into his neck.
Every night, I can still hear their screams and see the faces of the men I killed and the guys who never made it home. Twenty five to maybe thirty boys left from my town to fight the Russians. Only three of us came home in 1945.”
-Vasile Tolan. Regiment: 2nd Dorobanți, 11th Infantry division. World War Two.
This story was documented by Battles and Beers. Every soldier has a story, and every story deserves to be told.