WWII, Viet­nam leader dies in West Palm

The Palm Beach Post - - OBITUARIES - By Eliot Klein­berg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH — When Gen. Ge­orge Pat­ton raced his Third Army across Europe in World War II, a 27-yearold bri­gadier gen­eral com­mand­ing a tank bat­tal­ion for him was Albin F. Irzyk.

The dis­tin­guished war vet­eran, au­thor, ed­u­ca­tor and lec­turer died Sept. 10 at age 101 at his home in West Palm Beach, where he had lived since the 1970s.

“I al­ways say there is no greater call­ing than putting on a mil­i­tary uni­form and serv­ing your coun­try,” Irzyk told The Palm Beach Post for a 2009 feature. “I also say there’s no hu­man en­deavor that com­pares to com­mand­ing troops in com­bat.”

The son of Catholic Pol­ish im­mi­grants was born in Salem, Mass., north of Bos­ton, in 1917, at the height of U.S. in­volve­ment in World War I.

He grad­u­ated from the school that later be­came the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts, where he was a three-time var­sity let­ter­man in foot­ball and base­ball. In 1964, Sports Il­lus­trated would name him a Sil­ver An­niver­sary All Amer­ica.

Irzyk signed up for the Army on July 1, 1940, and ended up at the 3rd U.S. Cav­alry Reg­i­ment. His com­man­der was Pat­ton.

His World War II ex­ploits in­clude ac­tion at the Bat­tle of the Bulge, where he com­manded 14 tanks and 3,500 troops, and was in a tank that was hit by Ger­man fire.

He was a found­ing mem­ber and vice chair­man of the South Florida chap­ter of the Vet­er­ans of the Bat­tle of the Bulge.

“We were so cold, you could not get any colder,” Irzyk told The Palm Beach Post at the lo­cal group’s 2013 re­union. “We had two en­e­mies: the Ger­mans and the weather.”

Many of Irzyk’s men were killed in a grim Ger­man coun­ter­at­tack. In his book “He Rode Up Front for Pat­ton,” he de­scribed “the fright­en­ing, de­mor­al­iz­ing, in­tim­i­dat­ing, un­real sounds, screeches, and screams of high ve­loc­ity tank gun rounds hit­ting, crash­ing, ex­plod­ing, and ric­o­chet­ing all around them. It shook, stag­gered, numbed, alarmed and un­nerved the men.”

Gary Hig­gins, pres­i­dent of the na­tional Bat­tle of the Bulge vet­er­ans’ group, said Fri­day night he was at the group’s na­tional con­ven­tion in Colorado and had not heard of Irzyk’s pass­ing, but would mark it at the con­ven­tion’s ban­quet to­day.

Hig­gins, a Viet­nam War vet­eran who had three rel­a­tives in the bat­tle, said he met Irzyk in March in West Palm Beach at a meet­ing of the lo­cal chap­ter.

He said Irzyk “went above and be­yond our ‘great­est gen­er­a­tion’ mem­bers. A leader in all as­pects of his mil­i­tary ca­reer and per­sonal life.”

Irzyk died just two months af­ter the July 8 death of Ge­orge Fisher, a Palm Beach res­i­dent and the lo­cal group’s pres­i­dent. Fisher was 93.

In April 1945, Irzyk’s bat­tal­ion had lib­er­ated the first con­cen­tra­tion camp in Ger­many, and through­out his later life, he would present lec­tures on the Holo­caust.

Af­ter World War II, Irzyk com­manded the 14th Ar­mored Cav­alry Reg­i­ment in Europe in the 1961 Berlin Cri­sis. And in the Viet­nam War, he led com­mands in Saigon dur­ing the 1968 Tet Of­fen­sive and later in that coun­try’s war-torn cen­tral high­lands. He es­caped se­ri­ous in­jury when his he­li­copter conked out, forc­ing the pi­lot to crash-land from 3,000 feet.

Irzyk re­tired from ac­tive duty in 1971, with the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Cross, two Sil­ver Stars, four Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, as well as the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Medal, three Le­gions of Merit awards and 11 Air Medals.

Later, he was head­mas­ter of a pri­vate sec­ondary school and sat on nu­mer­ous boards. He also was a mem­ber and fre­quent speaker at vet­er­ans’ groups.

He au­thored six books: four about World War II, one about the Tet Of­fen­sive and one about the 14th Ar­mored Cav­alry Reg­i­ment.

In July 2012, Irzyk’s 1920s wooden home at 2527 Fla­gler Drive caught fire, but city fire­fight­ers quickly doused the blaze and saved both the home and its ir­re­place­able me­men­tos. Irzyk later praised the fire­fight­ers, who threw a lasagna din­ner for him and his wife.

“This guy is like John Wayne in­car­nate,” West Palm Beach Fire Capt. Butch Barndt said at the time.

Irzyk is sur­vived by his wife of 72 years, Eve­lyn, along with three chil­dren, a nephew, five grand­chil­dren and four great-grand­chil­dren.

He will be buried in Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery this year, his son Albin Jr. said Fri­day from Wadsworth, Ill., near Chicago.

He said he would like his fa­ther “to be re­mem­bered as a fam­ily man and a patriot who loved and faith­fully served his coun­try for his en­tire life.”

Albin Irzyk died Sept. 10 at 101 at his home in West Palm Beach.

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