May 09, 2006 - One Man's Crusade
Stan Wojtusik's tireless effort has paved the way for Battle of the Bulge veterans to be honored.
ARLINGTON, Va. - As a 19-year-old in World War II, Stan Wojtusik was forced to surrender to the Germans along with his entire regiment.
That might have been the last time he ever gave up in anything.
The former private first class, now 80, has been on a personal mission for years to build monuments - here, there and, it seems, everywhere - to the Battle of the Bulge, the greatest conflict in U.S. military history.
Yesterday, on what he termed the "sacred soil" of Arlington National Cemetery, he joined old soldiers and dignitaries from three countries in dedicating a sculpted piece of granite to the 19,000 Americans who were killed, the 40,000 who were wounded and the 20,000 who, like him, were taken prisoner in the battle.
As the master of ceremonies, Wojtusik (pronounced woh-TOO-zik) stood in a spitting rain on a lush plateau above the Potomac River as a chaplain prayed, the speakers droned and, at length, a bugler played Taps. The air was heavy with the odor of wet grass. Fat-bellied planes rumbled overhead from nearby Reagan National Airport.
"This is for the veterans, the veterans," Wojtusik said later.
The Arlington memorial is among at least a half-dozen Wojtusik has played a role in putting up since 1994, from Valley Forge to Cape Cod to coastal Virginia.
Though reflective and well spoken on most topics, the auto club retiree from Northeast Philadelphia expressed only a bare-bones explanation of his drive to memorialize his only battle of the war.
"My wife died [in 1993] and I sort of have time on my hands," said the big man (he's still 6 feet) with a soft voice. "This keeps me busy and out of trouble. I just want to do it for the guys that got killed."
Wojtusik was a member of the 106th Infantry Division, an inexperienced outfit that had been on the front lines in the European war for only a few weeks when the Germans launched a surprise offensive in Belgium and Luxembourg on Dec. 16, 1944.
The initial assault pitted 200,000 Germans against only 83,000 Americans.
Wojtusik, who had only an M-1 rifle to fight tanks, scrambled from foxhole to foxhole until Dec. 22, when top officers decided to call it quits. Two whole regiments of the 106th Division - 8,000 men - lay down their arms.
The battle continued for six weeks, but Wojtusik was then a POW. He spent the final winter of the war in Stalag IV-B near Dresden, Germany. He got frost-bitten feet, but he lived.
John Bowen, 70, of Silver Spring, Md., suggested that Wojtusik's monument-building zeal could come from the the vague guilt that often trails soldiers who have become prisoners of war, typically through no fault of their own.
"For a long time, the guys from Stan's division - I wouldn't say they were shunned, but they always felt guilty. ... I would think that's part of what motivates him," said Bowen, who has known Wojtusik for 15 years.
Wojtusik conceded, "I sort of had that guilt complex."
Wojtusik is the national president of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge - The Vee-Bob, to men in the ranks - which had 21,000 members when it was founded a generation ago but has only 11,000 today.
The group's Delaware Valley chapter, of which he is president, has built monuments at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne and at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
Other monuments have been erected by chapters across the country. Wojtusik personally has helped out with three in Massachusetts - in Wooster, Hyannis and Quincy - as well as monuments at Fort Monroe, Va., and Fort Meade, Md.
He is the first to acknowledge the hard work of other veterans in these projects, especially that of a friend from Philadelphia, Charles DiChristopher.
DiChristopher and five of his eight children run a burial-monument business with its main office in the city's Juniata Park section.
Over the years he has designed and donated the costly gray Vermont granite for most of the monuments Wojtusik has had a hand in.
"If it weren't for Charles DiChristopher, the monuments wouldn't be available," Wojtusik said.
His own motives for helping are complex, DiChristopher said.
Now 61, he was draft age during the Vietnam War. He said he was called up in 1965 but was judged physically unfit because of kidney problems. Assisting Wojtusik's WWII efforts "makes me feel good," he said. "I've always had the feeling it is my donation to the cause."
The Arlington monument was paid for by the governments of Belgium and Luxembourg, which were saved from German occupation by the Allies in World War II.
Guy Verhofstadt, prime minister of Belgium, and Octavie Modert, Luxembourg's secretary of state for culture, were among the dignitaries who sat with several scores of veterans on folding chairs amid scattered oaks, maples and magnolias.
It was Wojtusik, not surprisingly, who had pitched the idea for the Arlington monument to the Belgians and the Luxembourgians.
He said that, on a visit to the cemetery, he had found only a small marker for the battle that clinched the Allied victory.
"If you didn't look where you were going, you'd trip over it," he said. "I thought we were deserving of something better."
The cemetery said one monument was enough.
But Wojtusik wouldn't take no for an answer. He asked U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R., N.J.) to sponsor a bill to permit the new monument.
That sailed through, but then the Art Commission that must approve all monuments in the Washington area said that DiChrisopher's design was too grand. The proposed monument would block the view of other memorials.
That was in January. By February, Wojtusik was back with a design modeled on a Grecian temple 5 3/4 feet high and 7 1/2 feet wide. The commission approved.
Wojtusik, over the months, had put so many miles on the trips to Washington that he had to buy new tires for his Buick LeSabre.
"Stan was the one who did the job," said Morris F. Heydt Jr., 82, of Clifton Heights, treasurer of the Delaware Valley veterans chapter.
Standing at the site yesterday, Wojtusik appeared misty-eyed.
He had always said that his biggest thrill was being part of the 1995 site dedication for the National World War II Memorial in Washington, when he had stood beside actor Tom Hanks and the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.). He had played a small role in that project.
Yesterday was pretty thrilling, too.
Tom Infield, Philadelphia Inquirer - Philadelphia,PA,USA
November 18, 2004 - West Point honors Battle of Bulge vets
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Thirty World
War II veterans were honored Nov. 6 at the Army-Air Force game as West
Point observed the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
“At this stage of my life, it gives me an uplifting feeling to be
recognized by people and appreciated for what I did,” said Stan
Wojtusik, president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Philadelphia,
Pa. “I hope the cadets and the leadership at West Point realize what
these men pulled off -- it was nearly impossible.”
August 21, 2006 - 11 forgotten soldiers honored - Memorial recognizes black men
monument is the first known American public recognition of the
Gail Stanton, Worcester Telegram (subscription) - Worcester,MA,USA
Bulge survivors don't go down easy - They remember Patton, buzz bombs, bitter cold -- and World War II's bloodiest day for America
September 26, 2007
LINCOLNSHIRE -- Most of us have seen "Patton," the 1970 Academy Award-winning film starring George C. Scott, and can recall the moment when the triumphant general rolls past his cheering men atop a tank, boasting how he's headed to Berlin to shoot the paper-hanging Fuhrer.
Al Kamikow of Buffalo Grove saw much the same thing in real life, and he recalled at least one soldier who was less than pleased to see Old Blood-n-Guts.
"When Patton came through, he was riding on the back of a tank with his shiny helmet on, (and) his pistols," Kamikow said. "He was yelling, 'I love you bastards, I love you bastards.'
"Well, the guy next to me jumps up and yells '---- you!' I said to him, 'You can't do that,' and he says, 'What's he gonna do -- send me to Bastogne?'"
Only men who lived through the winter of 1944-45 in the Ardennes could tell such a tale, and there was no shortage of that rare vintage Tuesday night as the national chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge began its annual reunion at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort.
Stanley Wojtusik of Philadelphia, the group's president, said suburban Chicago was selected for the festivities in an effort to seek out Bulge veterans who have yet to join up.
"We're down to about 8,000 members," said Wojtusik, who served with the 106th Infantry Division and survived "six months too long" in Stalag 4B. "We started out with about 22,000, but the Veterans Administration report is that 1,100 American veterans from the World War II period are dying every day."
Wojtusik, who previously served two years as the group's president in the 1990s, joked, "We're running out of candidates. We've been recycling ourselves."
DAN MORAN, Waukegan News Sun - Waukegan,IL,USA
|Page last revised 11/01/2007