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PrivateWojtek, Heroic Brown Bear ofWWII
PRIVATEWOJTEK, HEROIC BROWN BEAR OFWWII
Many brave soldiers answered the call to bear arms duringWWII, but one Polish artillery supply company took things a step further and armed a bear. That’s right — among the countless animal heroes of WWII was a full-grown brown bear from the mountains of Northern Iran named Wojtek. Wojtek first joined the Polish soldiers as a cub. A young Iranian boy found him after a hunter most likely shot his mother. Then, when a group of Polish prisoners of war, recently released from Soviet gulags to join the Allied forces, passed through the town where the boy and the bear cub lived, they traded some of their rations for the cub and took him with them. The soldiers loved the cub and named himWojtek, which means “happy warrior” in Polish. They nursed him with condensed milk from a vodka bottle and fed him some of their limited rations. Over time, the bear grew to be 6 feet tall and over 400 pounds, but because he had grown up around humans, he was a gentle giant. He learned several mannerisms from his human friends and even took a liking to beer and cigarettes. For the many soldiers who had lost or were separated from their families, Wojtek was a welcome boost to morale.
board because he wasn’t a soldier. So naturally, the Polish soldiers gave Wojtek a service number, and he officially became a private in their company, complete with a rank and a paybook. Private Wojtek’s moment of fame came when his company fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino. The bear saw his human counterparts carrying crates of artillery shells, and he began mirroring their actions. Throughout the entire battle, he calmly carried crates of ammo, which would have required four men to lift, to his comrades. In honor of Wojtek’s service during the battle,
the company changed its emblem to an image of a bear carrying an artillery shell, and Wojtek was promoted to the rank of corporal. After the war, Wojtek was moved to a zoo in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lived until he was 21 years old. There is now a bronze statue of Wojtek in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens, ensuring that this brave bear will not be forgotten.
When the soldiers reached the coast of Egypt, where they were to embark by boat to Italy, British soldiers wouldn’t let Wojtek on
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