The Last of the Pony Soldiers
When I first met Henry Osinski I was sixteen years old and he was Mr. Osinski. Later he was Mr. O, then Henry or Hank. In the last ten years he has been "Pony Soldier" to me. I would always call him on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day and when he answered the phone I would ask if the Pony Soldier was there.
The term Pony Soldier was bestowed on members of the US Cavalry, who rode and fought in the Plains Indian wars of post Civil War history. Legend has it the Native Americans, both friendly and hostile, gave these Army Troopers the name. When you hear the term Pony Soldier you think of John Wayne leading a troop of cavalrymen across the vast landscape in pursuit of the hostiles. Wayne was an actor, 2Lt Henry Osinski was a real Pony Soldier. In fact, he was the last of the Pony Soldiers. 2Lt. Osinski was in the final officer’s basic cavalry class held at Ft. Riley, Kansas prior to the US Army turning cavalrymen in to armored troops, horse riders to tank drivers.
Hank Osinski’s parents immigrated to the US from Poland. Hank and his brother were born in the US, but the family went back to Poland. Fortunately they returned to the US prior to WW II. When the war broke out Hank enlisted in the Army. He was an enlisted cavalry trooper and later in the war was offered the opportunity to become an officer, but not just any branch of the Army. Future 2Lt Osinski was given the honor to attend the last cavalry class the US Army conducted.
He trained on horses, but would later deploy to Europe to fight on the backs of Sherman tanks. In today’s modern Army the Cavalry still exists, but it is the armored “cav” that fights, not the horse soldier.
While in high school, I traveled to Rockford, Ill to visit Hank and his family. He had a room in his basement that was his den. It was full of military memorabilia he had brought back from WW II, including a GI .45 caliber Colt pistol. I must admit as a young man I was fascinated with that pistol.
When I was in college, Hank lent me the Colt. That is something in today’s politically correct world you would not do, give a handgun to a teenager. I had some Navy .45 ammo and I shot up every round I could lay my hands on. It was unbeknownst to Hank what a profound impact he would have on my life by lending me that .45 automatic.
At the end of the war, Hank had a German saddle maker produce a custom holster for his Colt. On one of my visits he presented me that holster. When I was a teenager, I wore that holster when I carried Hank’s borrowed handgun. Now I take it out from under lock and key and fondly remember.
All during my law enforcement career and to this day I still carry a Colt .45 pistol, a trend that Hank started for me. An adult lifetime in the military has kept me away from Illinois, but whenever I was home I would drive out to see Hank. In the early years it was to see him, his first wife Carol and their children. In later years it was to see him and Audrey.
I write a military / veteran related newspaper column and over the years I have called on Hank for information on topics I was working on for an article. Sometimes a subject would come up in our conversation that would spark an idea for a column.
His interest in the US Cavalry continued long after his war. He collected cavalry related items, including his prize find, a McClellan US Army saddle. Hank donated many of his cavalry items, along with the McClellan saddle, to the US Cavalry Museum, at Ft. Riley, Kansas.
As a master woodcarver, Hank could look at an item or a picture and carve an exact likeness. He still owes me a wooden duck he has promised for fifteen years to carve. Sadly, the Pony Soldier died on 6 December of this year. A new 2Lt Osinski, Hank’s granddaughter Lauren, is serving this country and is currently deployed in Iraq. To his family, I am so sorry for your loss. To Miss Audrey, thank you for caring for our Hank these past years. We buried another veteran today.
Copyright 2008 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.