NEW: Albin Irzyk, leader in WWII and Vietnam, dies at 101 in West Palm Beach

When Gen. George Patton raced his 3rd Army across Europe in World War II, a 27-year-old 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, who was a brigadier general, 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 II. 

He graduated from the school that later became the University of Massachusetts and 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 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 Sunday. 

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. 

VIDEO: Watch Albin Irzyk remembering World War II

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 doused the blaze and saved both the home and its irreplaceable mementoes. Irzyk 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."

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