SHEFFIELD LAKE — Seventy years after Sgt. Paul Risko was killed in World War II, residents of the French town he was helping liberate will honor the Sheffield Lake resident.
The July 30 ceremony in Pont-de-la-Roque in northern France also will honor the French teenager who found Risko’s body. Claude le Souquet, now 87, will receive a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on Memorial Day honoring Risko.
The flag, and two flags that flew over the state Capitol on Memorial Day, were presented Monday to Paula Forma, Risko’s niece. The presentation took place at the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, in Lorain City Hall. The flags were presented to Forma by state Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, and state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain.
The Risko family immigrated from Eastern Europe. Paula Forma said the family moved from Lakewood to Sheffield Lake in the 1930s after Risko’s older brother, Johnny Risko — a heavyweight boxer who fought Gene Tunney in 1925 — bought property in the town. Paul Risko, 26, was a Brookside High School graduate and saxophonist in a dance band.
Risko is believed to have been the first member of the U.S. Army’s 6th Armored Division’s 86th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron killed in the war. The squadron landed in France on July 24, 1944, according to the 86th’s military history.
“We are not doing anything right now,” Risko wrote in a July 26 letter to his mother. “Just waiting for the bell to ring to start the first round.”
On July 29, the squadron was reconnoitering crossings of the Seine River when a German shell destroyed a half-track — an armored vehicle with tank treads — on a bridge, killing Risko and another soldier.
Forma said her mother had unsuccessfully tried to get information on Risko’s death until she saw an item about the 86th in The Morning Journal in 2004. It connected them to le Souquet and Pont-de-la-Roque officials who commemorate the liberation anniversary.
Forma visited the town in 2006 and met le Souquet, who has written a book about the liberation. Forma was shown a plaque on a rock on the bridge honoring Risko and was taken to the cemetery where he is buried.
Forma said the experience was memorable. “I don’t think anyone’s alive who knew him personally and to remember him and keep him in their hearts and minds is remarkable,” she said.
Peter Paslawski, Forma’s husband, said in preparation for the upcoming trip, he asked County Commissioner Ted Kalo for a letter of recognition they could bring to le Souquet. That led to Kalo contacting Ohio’s congressional and state delegations and the flag presentation.
“This went way beyond our expectations,” Paslawski said.