Last Polish soldier of WWII opening battle dies

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Maj. Ignacy Skowron, the last known Polish survivor of the opening battle of World War II, died on Sunday at the age of 97.

Family friend Zofia Nowak said Monday that Skowron died at his grandson's home in Kielce, in southern Poland, after suffering circulatory, liver and pancreas problems.

The last time that he took part in observances of the battle's anniversary at the Westerplatte, a date marked somberly every year on Sept. 1, was in 2009, Nowak said. On his 97th birthday, last month, he was bedridden and weak, she said.

Skowron, at the time a corporal, was one of some 200 Polish troops guarding a military depot at Westerplatte, near the city of Gdansk, when it came under heavy fire from a German warship, the Schlezwig-Holstein.

Cut from any supplies or reinforcements, the Poles held out for seven days in the face of attack by more than 1,500 Nazi German troops from land, sea and air, but were eventually captured as prisoners.

Skowron was released from war prisoner camp in 1940 due to ill health and settled with his family near Kielce. He worked for Polish railways until his 1975 retirement. He then dedicated his life to telling the story of the battle to the younger generations.

His funeral will be held Wednesday in Brzeziny, near Kielce.