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Sergeant Matthew Grahek: Co. 'M', 339th Infantry

Updated: Jun 19


(Sgt. Matthew Grahek - Michigan Heroes Museum)


Matthew Grahek, born July 1, 1890, was an immigrant, having arrived in the United States in 1897, coming to America from Austria when his parents, Joseph and Marie Grahek made the courageous move to better their lives. The Grahek’s settled in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when Joseph found work as a copper miner in one of that region’s mines. Joseph’s son ‘Mattie’, along with four other brothers and three sisters, grew up in Calumet, all quickly learning to speak English, and excelling in the flourishing town’s excellent schools.

Calumet, with a population of nearly 5,600 people in 1900, and along with the nearby town of Red Jacket, was buoyed by the wealth derived from its flourishing copper mines. While both communities liked to boast of themselves as the ‘Copper Town of the USA’, those two company towns proved to be the ideal setting for Mattie. The very active youngster loved the outdoors, and excelled in winter sports, especially skiing and ice-skating. He reveled in his hometown’s sports, and hoped to one day become a professional ice skater; a dream sustained by the fact Calumet had its own hockey team, the Calumet Miners, who played in the International Professional Hockey League.[1]

Mattie, unlike his older brother, Joseph Jr., did not follow his father into the mines. Instead, he sought employment in a butcher shop, where, using his skills at record keeping, he worked using his brain, rather than his brawn. However, the Copper County Strike of 1913 changed things for the 23-year-old, especially when a horrendous fire killed over seventy Italians on Christmas day, a fire many believed to have been caused by unhappy strikers. Following this, Matthew Grahek gave up his job at the butcher shop and moved to Detroit, and got work as a tire finisher in an auto factory. Grahek was living in Detroit when, in June 1917, he registered for the draft. At that time he was listed as, “of medium height, medium build, and with brown eyes and brown hair.”[2] Mattie did not enlist into the army as many of his fellow workers did; instead he waited to be drafted, an action coming in June 1918. He was displeased to lose his job at the auto factory, and still further annoyed when he learned he had to pay his own way to Camp Custer. Never the less, once at Camp Custer, and assigned to Company ‘M’, 339th Infantry, he discovered his temperament and administrative skills served him well; promotions came quickly. Grahek recalled, “I was acting-sergeant when we got to … Camp Stoneycastle … in England.”[3]

The acting-sergeant also had an individualistic side, and this characteristic did not set well with his platoon commander, Lt. George Stoner. Grahek remarked, “When we got to England … another guy and I took a pass and [went] to London. We missed the late midnight train … [and] couldn’t catch a train out of there till about four o’clock the next morning. Just in time to get us back to camp.” He continued, “We had to sneak in the back way … [and] managed to get in line to answer reveille. Some sucker … reported us. Lieutenant Stoner, he didn’t like me … [he] busted me down to corporal.” Matthew Grahek recalled, “The guy [Lt. Stoner] was pushing in my place turned out to be yellow. He was supposed to relieve a guy in a tight spot at a barricade, and on the way out there, he feigned a sprained ankle. [Capt. Moore] jumped me right back to sergeant.”[4]

Sergeant Grahek proved to be resilient and plucky, once Company ‘M’s riflemen began to take fire from the Bolsheviks. In fact, by the time Cpt. Moore’s men were given leave in November 1918, Matthew Grahek had already been written up for a Distinguished Service Cross, the British Distinguished Conduct Medal, and the Croix de Guerre from France. Grahek remembered, “One time Lieutenant Wright … says to me, ‘Get your men spruced up, we’re going to be interviewed by General Ironside’.” He continued, “General Ironside was a big Britisher – about six foot four, 240 pounds. When he got to me – out in the field you don’t wear no (sic.) decoration, but you wear a ribbon in lieu of it – he noticed that. ‘British D.C.M?’ [he said] … I said, ‘yes sir’. He stuck his hand [and] shook my hand.”[5]

Matthew Grahek may not have been much impressed by high-ranking officers, but he was mighty interested in girls. He noted, “I used to like to figure skate … We were supposed to have a ten day rest … [I saw] a public park [in Archangel] with a skating rink, so I said, “Jesus! I haven’t skated for I don’t know how long!’ I wanted to skate. I inquired where I could get a pair of skates … It cost … the equivalent of five bucks.” The young NCO, while skating, noticed two attractive girls. He continued, “I asked this Russian sergeant, ‘How would you ask a woman to skate?’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘if you get nerve enough, go give them a salute and say Dobra vecher (good evening).’ I finally got nerve enough. I sidled up, gave a little salute. I say, ‘Dobra vecher’ … They laughed out loud and replied, ‘Why certainly!’ [we’ll skate with you] in English.” Grahek added, “Here I was, I had a woman on each arm, skating … I asked, ‘Where’d you learn to speak English?’ One says, ‘We were educated in England’ … They made me promise for sure to meet them the next night.”Unfortunately the young flirt never got back to Archangel to meet up with those girls again, and now, he stood, frustrated, watching a gaggle of poorly trained White Russian soldiers fumble about. Thinking back to that evening with the girls, and what might have been, Matthew remarked, “Who knows? Water over the dam – a long time ago.”[6]

Sergeant Grahek survived his time in Russia, returning to the U.S. to be Honorably Discharged in July 1919. He settled in Dearborn, MI and got a job as a factory worker for General Motor's Fisher Body Company. Mattie would work for this company for the next thirty-plus years, becoming a machine repairman.[7] He married Ida Brisson in 1929 and they had one child, Viola. He retired at age seventy, and settled in Allen Park, MI, and lived there until passing away, July 11, 1983, at the age of 93. Just before his death, he had gone to the V.A. Hospital in Allen Park for inpatient cataract surgery. Unfortunately, while there, he slipped while in the shower and broke his hip. Sadly, Matthew Grahek did not recover from the injury and died of a few days later.[8]

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[1] Grahek, Matthew, in Ward, William, A Well Kept Secret, 2016. [2] Grahek, Matthew, WWI Draft Registration Card, June 1917. [3] Grahek, Matthew, in Ward, William, A Well Kept Secret, 2016. [4] Grahek, Matthew, in Ward, William, A Well Kept Secret, 2016. [5] Grahek, Matthew, in Ward, William, A Well Kept Secret, 2016. [6] Grahek, Matthew, in Ward, William, A Well Kept Secret, 2016.

[7] Dearborn, MI City Directory, 1958.

[8] Grobel, Mike, 2022.




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