Steve Padjen served with the 580th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in Europe during the war, and on April 29, 1945 his unit advanced as far as the Elbe River, 70 miles northwest of Berlin.
Padjen, who was born and raised in Steelton but came to Hanover as a coach and teacher in the late 1940's, volunteered for duty, at age 19, right after his sophomore year at Dickinson College. It was November, 1942.
When Padjen's unit got to Germany in November 1944, the Allies had already pushed through Europe, and were poised to cross the Rhine River into Germany.
"Early in April we moved by infiltration to the west bank of the Rhine, to provide protection and defense for the ground and water forces crossing the river across a pontoon bridge," Padjen said.
It was there he learned that President Roosevelt had died.
"It was felt... of course you didn't have a whole lot of time to be sym- pathetic, you had to worry about your own skin," Padjen said.
On April 25, Padjen's unit was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, and they moved forward through central Germany without seeing much action, with the exception of German soldiers surrendering by the thousands. Civilians were also migrating westward — moving away from the Soviet Army, advancing from the east.
German soldiers and civilians, fearful of revenge expected from the Soviets, hurried to surrender to the Americans and the British in the belief that they would receive better treatment from the Western Allies.
On April 29, the 580th AAA had advanced to Blekade, a small village along the Elbe River.
"There was machine gun fire, and heavy artillery fire on either side of us ... This was a night that we were really concerned, because we had gone this far, and you didn't want to get knocked off at that point, because we knew the war wasn't going last much longer," Padjen said.
V-E Day brought both happiness and sadness to Padjen. He said he was happy that he was soon going to go home, but a last-minute tragedy dulled the occasion,
"Two of our officers and their jeep driver ran over an antitank mine, which exploded and killed them all. That was the same day as the surrender," Padjen recalled.
Terrance Wolf, The Evening Sun. Sunday, May 7, 1995.