The Tuleyas of York and Millersville, Pa.: A love story, not baseballs and hand grenades
Those in the military in World War II had a penchant for meeting fellow York countians. Here, Ed Tuleya is seen with York’s Earl Roser, right, at the Gloucester Cathedral in Glocester, England. Ed Tuleya survived Omaha Beach, lost his baseball career, met his Czech wife (see photo below) and the rest is a love story. Background posts: Nazis murdered downed airman from York, Part V, Old York lefty remembered young Brooks Robinson and Baseball’s Methuselah played for White Roses.
York Daily Record/York Sunday News’ writer Jim Seip penned an exceptional story about a heroic World War II soldier.
But it’s not really a war story… .
Olga and Ed Tuleya in Millersville home.
It’s a piece about a professional-level baseball player who lost that career to a war wound.
But it’s not really a sports story.
The soldier’s travels later took him to Europe where he met Olga, who became his wife.
Yes, that’s it. A Valentine’s Day story:
Stare into the framed black-and-white photograph that hangs in Ed Tuleya’s living room. At first glance, it reads like a hard-luck story.
It’s the picture of a young man headed home from the war. Tuleya stands on the ship that would sail for America, and ultimately lead him back to York. His uniform is all creases, standard GI protocol.
But his posture tells another story. The young man is slumped noticeably to his right, careful not to place too much weight on his left foot and an ankle still tender from an injury — a permanent reminder of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
No big baseball contract awaited his return.
He might have left the United States a promising, left-handed pitcher, but how can a pitcher throw when he can’t push off the mound?
His life, though, is not baseballs and hand grenades. It’s not a sporting life, or a war story, but a long, endearing love story. In three acts. With the happy ending and the photographs to prove it.
“Sometimes opportunity comes and hits you on the head,” Tuleya said.
Then there are the more subtle opportunities. Some might say risks.
“And they are the ones you take,” Tuleya said.
A poet himself, Tuleya might have added the Robert Frost line “. . . and that has made all the difference.”
Tuleya was the son of Slovak immigrants, but he knew how to play the Americans’ game. If they can’t see the ball, they can’t hit the ball. It was true in the 1930s, and it’s still true.
Maybe Tuleya lacked perfect aim. Maybe he didn’t always hit the corners, or paint the black as they say. Maybe opponents would shout, “Look out, here comes the wild man!” when he entered games for William Penn High School.
But he could throw. The nattily dressed men standing in the ballpark dirt knew it. They represented pro teams from Boston and St. Louis.
The St. Louis Browns, the major-league franchise that eventually moved to Baltimore, offered him a contract.
It might have been an easy decision for some, but Tuleya had a choice. Some other men in fancy suits had visited his house, offering a scholarship to the York Collegiate Institute — a prep school. Students often left the school with college scholarships — many of them headed to Ivy League schools. Tuleya knew of the school, but until then he never thought about playing there. His family couldn’t afford it.
“I can remember my coach told me, ‘Your life is baseball, go for baseball,’ ” Tuleya said, a grin widening across his face. “I thought about that, and then I went for that scholarship.”
The YCI scholarship led to another scholarship — this time to Penn State University.
He studied. He played baseball. He joined the ROTC. And when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he went to war. By 1942 he was in Fort Benning, Ga., a second lieutenant awaiting orders.
A member of the 175th Infantry Regiment, he was sent to England and prepared for the invasion of Normandy.
“There was a big rivalry between the 175th and the 116th (Regiment) to see who would go first,” Tuleya said.
The 116th went first.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Tuleya said.
Some of the heaviest fighting during the allied invasion of Normandy came on a 6-mile beachhead that would be known as Bloody Omaha. Naval gunfire and air bombardments had little effect on the German forces nestled in cliffs and bluffs. The D-Day Museum estimates the United States suffered 2,200 casualties at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
By the end of the day, the Allies controlled a small sliver of territory. Tuleya landed the next day — on D-Day plus one.
“They told us, ‘No resistance,’ ” Tuleya said. “Baloney. We lost so many men.”
Landing at Normandy on June 7, Tuleya witnessed a grisly scene. Bodies. So many bodies of boys floating everywhere.
The next day a mortar shell exploded overhead as Tuleya cleared briars out of a ditch — attempting to find cover for his men. Shrapnel from the tree burst hit him in the ankle. He would remain overseas for the duration but never again fought on the front lines.
“You never know how you will react when you’re put in that situation,” Tuleya said. “Our worst soldiers were the big mouths. The poor, little, timid kids made the bravest soldiers.”
A letter dated Jan. 4, 1945 from St. Louis Browns Vice President William O. DeWitt, ensured him that he would receive a tryout with the Browns upon his return, if he wanted one. Although he would pitch again for local town teams, he was never the same on the mound.
Tuleya returned to his hometown. He taught at William Penn and coached baseball. He continued taking classes and earned a fellowship to study for a year in his family’s homeland of Slovakia in 1947-48.
And that’s where the story turns. His life wouldn’t be defined by missed opportunities or heartache.
He checked into a penzion, a type of bed and breakfast, in the Tatra Mountains. And met the love of his life, a Czech woman named Olga Lausegerova.
They took walks together and talked. And when she returned to Prague, he spent weekends traveling about 600 kilometers to visit her. They spent holidays and weekends together. They listened to the radio broadcast of the communists taking over.
“I think only the communists were happy,” Olga said.
But Tuleya needed to return to York. He waited for letters from Olga, but none arrived.
“I dated everyone, trying to forget about her,” Tuleya said.
Finally he wrote to Olga’s relatives, asking why she hadn’t written. He pieced together the truth. Olga had written, and often, but his own mother had intercepted the letters.
“She didn’t want me marrying a gypsy,” Tuleya said, laughing at the thought.
The couple resumed their correspondence, after he provided his work address. And he proposed. Only his bride couldn’t leave her country. The communists had cracked down. And it would take a year for the necessary paperwork from both countries to facilitate a marriage — and a return trip.
“If he wants to get married, they said let the stupid American come here,” Olga said, “so the stupid American came.”
Back in Europe, Tuleya married Olga — twice.
The communists attempted to limit religion, so a civil service was necessary. The couple never recognized that ceremony as their wedding date. They married in a 500-year-old church about a month later, on Aug. 15, 1949. And the organ played.
Afterward, Tuleya left for home — without his bride. Olga still needed more paperwork filed. She wouldn’t arrive in the United States until October.
They lived together in York. Eventually they moved to Millersville, when Tuleya became a professor. And in 1960 they made room for Olga’s mother, Zophia, who after 11 years had finally earned clearance to leave Czechoslovakia.
She had lived through the Russian revolution, the Nazi occupation of Prague, the murder of her husband at the hand of the Gestapo, and communist occupation.
“She was in heaven,” Olga said.
Tuleya installed a handrail at the family’s house to help her climb the stairs more easily.
Today he points at the rail as he walks upstairs to work on a manuscript for a book he’s working on. He laughs at the thought. He’s 88. Olga is 84. They are the ones who need the handrail now.
They grew old together.
Nearby, oil paintings of the Tatra Mountains — where they met — are displayed on the wall.