As a teenager, Stanley F. Czarniak felt his father’s sorrow as he watched him huddle beside the radio listening to the grim news that his Polish homeland had fallen to the Nazis in 1939.
Stanley did not take this well.
A teenage hunter who knew his way around guns, and a student of war fascinated by the books he read on the trench warfare of World War I, he was determined to avenge what the Nazis had done, certain America would wind up in World War II.
Czarniak enlisted in the Army on Feb. 6, 1940, and was sent to West Point to serve in the Quartermaster Corps as a truck driver. Less than two years later, the United States was in the fight.
“I was listening to the football game at West Point when President Roosevelt announced we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. Myself and three friends volunteered as parachute troops, and we became charter members of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Benning, Ga.,” Czarniak said.
His chance to even the score with Hitler arrived when the Allied forces invaded Europe.
“Our division, the 82nd Division; the British Red Devil Division; the Canadians; the Polish; and a French battalion of paratroopers dropped behind the beaches at Normandy to stop German reinforcements from coming up as our sea forces landed,” he said of his participation in the June 6, 1944, Invasion of Normandy.
Czarniak was in charge of a platoon of 40 men armed with eight machine guns. He’d come a long way quickly from his teenage days of wandering the woods on what is now George Urban Boulevard in Cheektowaga, hunting rabbit and pheasant.
“There were four men to a machine gun, a couple bazooka men, a medic and a radio man,” he recalled of his military unit. “Bill Lee was our first general, and he told us we had no history of battle experience at the time but that we had a rendezvous with destiny.”
A book on the 101st would later bear that name, “Rendezvous With Destiny.” Czarniak bears the scars to prove it. He suffered a bullet wound to the kidney from a German machine gunner and a tear to the cheek from shrapnel.
After more than a month of mending, he was well enough to make the jump into Holland on Sept. 17, 1944.
Behind enemy lines for 72 days, his unit was pulled back to a rest area in Mourmelon, France. Soon after replacements arrived, they were trucked to Bastogne, where they fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“There was no time for an airlift. We had a network of roads coming out of Bastogne. Hitler needed those roads for his armored divisions. They wanted Antwerp, a big port that was supplying the northern armies for the Allies.”
It looked like the Germans might win a decisive fight, and the enemy sent word to the Czarniak’s commander asking if he wanted to surrender.
“Gen. Anthony McAuliffe said, ‘Nuts.’ That was his reply to the Germans. Then General Patton’s tanks broke through the encirclement around us, and we continued fighting.”
Czarniak said he and his fellow paratroopers remained on the ground from that point and fought east to Germany until victory was won in May 1945.
But, really, the war never ended for Czarniak.
“It keeps me awake every night. I think mainly about the boys that I lost. My platoon required replacements after every action. We probably lost about 45.”
Yet his hard-earned war experiences helped others.
In February 1951, he served at Camp Breckinridge, Ky., training troops headed to the Korean War.
“I never hesitated when I was recalled.”
It was an honor, he said, to share his military experience, though privately his heart ached.
“It was sad to see young boys, knowing what they were going to do and what they were going to face.”
Stanley F. Czarniak, 91
Rank: battlefield commission, 2nd lieutenant
War zone: World War II, European Theater; served stateside during Korean War training combat troops
Years of service: February 1940 – June 1945; reactivated February 1951 – June 1952
Most prominent honors: Purple Heart, 2 Bronze Stars, Combat Infantry Badge, 2 Presidential Unit Citations.
Specialty: machine gun platoon sergeant