The narrative below was edited from a recorded conversation in August 2000.
Stan Dzierga served with E Company from the invasion of Sicily until he was wounded in the Hürtgen forest. Dzierga was awarded the Silver Star for valor on D-Day.
While we spoke, Stan rummaged through an old wooden box filled with old paybooks, Army pamphlets, and other mementoes from his service. Dzierga hadn't looked at any of it in many years. He has been more successful than some of his old comrades at suppressing war memories. Talking about the war was an unpleasant effort.
My mother died in 1942. I went into the service that year. She died in November, and that’s when I went in. My brother went in March of the following year, in ’43. And he was older than me. I don’t know how that come about. He ended up in Burma.
I started writing to Frances [Stan's wife] when I was in basic training in Camp Croft [Spartanburg, South Carolina]. This buddy of mine, Paul Grado, had a girlfriend in Endicott [New York] who was a friend of Fran’s. So anyway, I got a couple letters from her when I was in basic.
And then after basic, I spent two weeks in Pennsylvania somewhere around Sharon, Pennsylvania, there was a transit camp there, and then from there I went to Dix, two weeks in Dix.
Basic training was three months. Then another month, and I was in Africa.
Paul Grado and I were replacements; we split in Africa. I went with the 1st Division in Africa and Grado joined the 34nd. [NOTE: The 34th Division later fought in Italy.]
I joined the 1st Division before Sicily. The invasion was July 10th. That’s her birthday, too. [He gestured toward Fran who said, “Oh, my gosh…”]
Sicily was nowhere compared to what D-Day was.
I remember sitting in a mountain up there. And there’s airplanes flying down below. We were taking potshots at them. That’s how high we were. They were down low, too, strafing and that. You could see them, but we made sure they didn’t see us.
That was quite a thing, too, that Sicily. We walked right through the center of the island. Mount Aetna. We bivouacked under that. Then we came back and they shipped us to England. I think it was October, I’m not sure. Then from there on we trained for the invasion.
Colonel George Taylor, he was tough. He was a good man, too. Spalding was all right. Wozenski was a tough cookie, I’ll tell you, but he was great. A good tactician. He was a big guy. Big moustache, curled it up like a cosack. Like a Russian cosack. Give him a horse and he’d be riding out…
You didn’t want to cross him, I’ll tell you that.
Ben Overstreet. Christ, I felt bad about that [his death on the Siegfried Line]. He was an older fellow. I said, “Be careful with them grenades.” There’s no sense throwing them if there’s nothing there. They got our positions.
He had the pin out…what the hell. He put it in his pocket with the pin out.
Then he must have turned away and the handle popped…
Oh, Jesus, that was bad.
We were outside of Brand, Germany. Quite a few guys up there got hit. We had a German pillbox. One guy was looking out of it and an 88 came right through that aperture and took his head right off.
I don’t know who that guy was. But I remember that. That was in September, I think.
Phil Streczyk. He wasn’t that big of a guy. When he’d march, he took short, quick steps. The thing I remember about him: he’d go out there, he didn’t give a damn about anything. I talked to Wally Bieder and he told me that Streczyk died. He wound up in a hospital with battle fatigue. He was really great. [Indicating the roster:] All these guys were…
He got killed with me. I was right next to him when he got killed…
The invasion, well, that was rough. There was a lot of noise….[Stan shuddered.]
One thing I remember. They told us, when we hit the top of the ridge, avoid the dry spots in the grass. That’s where the mines are. And that’s what we did. I guess the grass was starting to dry or they just dug it up and it didn’t take. And that’s what we tried to do. Avoid them dry spots when we were walking.
I remember I said to Wally, “Look at those guys running across the field. Those must be our guys.”
He says, “Hell, no,” he says, “They’re not our guys. That’s got to be Germans.”
We didn’t have any overcoats on. They had overcoats on and they were running across the field from the beach we were on. We just made the top of the ridge and some of them were going back. The Germans were falling back there.
And the hedgerows were tough. You didn’t know what to expect. And then you had snipers in the trees. That’s I think how Bisco got killed.
Poor guy, I’ll tell you. What a nice guy. Soft-spoken.
I just…he was right next to me….[Shudders, shakes it off]
I got the Silver Star for D-Day. A few guys got Silver Stars for D-Day. And a few guys got Distinguished Service Crosses. I don’t have the paper [that came with the Silver Star explaining the reason for the medal]. I think it was with my discharge. I put that in with a Decca record, one of those 78’s they used to have. I put my discharge in there. And I lost both. I lost the whole thing.
I lost a few things in life.
I made sergeant after the invasion. That was around late August or September.
When we had them on the run, I remember Streczyk riding a German half track. It was either Belgium or northern France there. And he come around the corner with a German half track. And he’s up there waving, “Hey!” He could’ve got his head shot off, for Christ’s sake. He’s riding a German tank, no kind of flag on him, or anything.
Who the hell would think that’d be our guy riding a German tank? Boy, I remember that. He’s waving and hollering at me. I remember that good.
Then we were in Germany. We were overlooking that plateau, over where Aachen was. The 26th Regiment went in there to Aachen and we were on the outskirts by Brand. There was a waterworks where we were on top of the hill there.
Maybe someday I’ll got back, if I live long enough. Not there—I’d go to France. I liked France. Fly over, stay a week, and come back. I’d like to take her someplace.
When I was in Germany, Frances sent me a wallet and a box of cookies. And I said, “I got to see this girl when I get out....If I get out.”
I put the wallet in my shirt pocket. I don’t know why. Usually, I keep it in my back pocket.
You had all the ammunition and grenades and all that stuff hanging off you. And, my God, we’re carrying 50 pounds, something like that.
Anyway, I just put it in my shirt pocket along with a little prayer book. And shrapnel stuck right in there. Right in the wallet.
[A slowing-moving shell fragment hit Stan’s chest and was stopped by the wallet and prayer book. Stan later told Fran that her wallet saved his life.]
I don’t remember when I got hit. It just stopped it.
I got wounded at the end of November ’44. That was in that Hürtgen forest. Bieder was with me then, I think
I was in a hospital in England three or four weeks. Then they shipped me back to France and had me training cooks for the Battle of the Bulge, infantry tactics. I never went back to my outfit. They had me converting guys who were cooks, different guys, ordinance guys that they needed for frontline duty. More or less like a basic training for infantrymen. Truck drivers and all that.
And that’s the way it wound up. So that was it.
I gotta call Wally next week or so. [I had given Stan’s number to Bieder and the two spoke for the first time since the war.] I’m going to send him a picture of my family. We were talking, and he says, You don’t remember this and that…?
You don’t remember a lot of this stuff because, man…[His voice trailed off.]
[Dzierga came home and met the girl who had sent him the package. She was Frances Halchenko, then 19, of Endicott, New York. Fran's father was from Russia, and her mother was from Czechoslovakia (a town named Bratislav, near Prague). Both her parents came to America as young people. Fran wanted to be a Home Economics teacher before she met Stan. When she married, Fran told me, she thought, "There goes my career down the drain."]
I stayed in Europe until October ’45. I got home at the end of October. That’s when I went to see Frances. I took a bus from Albany to Binghamton, New York. She come from Endicott, New York. She met me at the bus depot. “Come on, let’s take a bus,” she said.
“Nah, nah, we’ll take a cab,” I said. Big shot, you know, what the hell. Trying to make an impression.
I went up to her house and spent four or five days there and said, “Why don’t you come back with me? Come to my house for awhile?” So she did. She come back for a week.
And we kept writing. And she said there was no work in Endicott. And I said, “Get a job over here. At Spray Electric.” So she came back and got a job at Sprague Electric and she stayed with a teacher, a school teacher on Summer Street, and she stayed here, and we got married in ’47. We got married, what the hell, we been married what? 53 years. I had three kids, I got six grandchildren. And I’m not sorry, I tell you, I had a good life with her.