Sneed: A veteran’s timeless story
By Michael Sneed July 5, 2013 12:08AM
Stanley Pokrzywa in 2010
Updated: August 6, 2013 6:21AM
The Fifth of July . . .
It may be the day after the Fourth of July, but the story of an American soldier who did his duty should always be told.
So let’s revisit the story of World War II veteran Stanley A. Pokrzywa, whom I described in a 2010 essay as American as hopscotch — and as touching as an old wedding photo.
In 2010, Stanley, who was then 92, was maneuvering around his Chicago nursing home in a wheelchair decorated with American flags, pinning his war medals on a weathered blue blazer — and keeping his war “treasures” in a two-drawer Tupperware container labeled “Stan’s War Memories.”
Since we wrote about Stanley, his wife Helen, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, has died; he no longer lives at the nursing home; and an attempt to find his family members has proved fruitless.
Although Stanley may have become the legendary old soldier who seems to have faded away, I think his story is timeless.
So here it is again . . . as Stanley told it three years ago.
“My last name means ‘poison ivy’ in Polish. It’s pronounced PUCK-shiv-vah — and I was born at home with the help of a midwife in an old Italian neighborhood at Halsted and Ohio streets in 1918.”
“I was born during World War I, spent 195 days of combat in Europe in World War II, until we met up with the Russians in Germany in 1945 . . . and I read the [Sun-] Times every day.”
“I make WWII airplanes out of clothespins, buttons and popsicle sticks,” Stanley said. (He also hung a crucifix over his bed and affixed a picture to his fridge of Michelle and Barack Obama that he clipped from a magazine.)
“After all,” said Stanley, “That’s why I fought. All Americans should have a picture of our president in our homes. We fought for freedom . . . to help our government keep our country free. Free to vote. Free to choose our own church. I was happy that I was able to help my country. If they needed me again, I’d go right back again.”
He also helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp.
“I opened the gate, and a man dropped to his knees and hugged me and said: ‘American, American, American. Do you have a piece of bread?’ ” said Stanley.
“Those people were so happy. They were just sad I didn’t bring enough food. It made me cry when I saw those poor people and how they were suffering. They were just skin and bones. To free those people was one of the best things I ever did in my life.”
Stanley was part of the U.S. Army’s 104th Infantry Division, known as the Timberwolves, whose motto was: ‘Nothing in Hell can stop the Timberwolves.’ On the back of Stanley’s wheelchair was a license plate with a “Timberwolves” logo.
He joined the Army in 1942; fought in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and was wounded in Holland when he came under German artillery fire attempting to pin down the position of a German machine-gun nest . . . He wound up with shrapnel in his back, but kept fighting — doused in sulfur — until the wound got infected. Then he spent a week in a hospital in Paris . . . got patched up . . . and then, he said, “I got back out there with my outfit.”
Meanwhile, his wife, Helen, saved every letter he wrote to her.
“When I got home, my wife was so happy to see me she couldn’t get over it. She jumped into my arms and hugged me and said she wouldn’t let me go again.”
It’s a story as old as time. Let’s remember it.
Sneedlings . . .
Friday’s birthdays: Huey Lewis, 63; Chuck Close, 73, and Edie Falco, 50.