He lived the war stories he tells

At a spry 96 years old, Norb Studelska has vivid memories of his life as a paratrooper in Europe in World War II fighting
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Norb Studelska Sr. and his platoon once encountered enemy soldiers walking toward them, and somebody opened fire.

“I had my M1 aimed at a guy. He knelt down and put his hand over his face. I didn’t pull the trigger,” Studelska said. “I don’t know if I was a hero or a coward, and I don’t really give a damn.”

He doesn’t know what happened to the German soldier.

“Is he a grandpa like me?” Studelska asked.

That’s just one of the harrowing experiences  the 96-year-old Grafton resident went through during nearly 18 months in Europe as a paratrooper in World War II.

He often thinks about the war, more so during this time of year. He wrote about many of his wartime experiences in a 15-page document and adds anecdotes and details when he tells his war stories.

Studelska was born in Canada Aug. 4, 1925. After his father drowned in a fishing accident when Studelska was 5, his mother moved the family near relatives in Minnesota.

Not long after World War II broke out, Studelska realized he was going to be drafted, so he joined the Army Air Corps. He liked model plans and enjoyed aeronautics class in high school.

But the government sought infantry. “Cannon fodder is what they wanted,” Studelska said.

He joined jump school because of the cool clothing and 50-cent pay raise over the standard private’s pay of $50 a month.

He sent his money home for his mother to spend, “but she saved it all for me,” he said.

Seventeen weeks of jump school was hard, but Studelska, who played football, basketball and ran track, was in shape and could handle it.

Teamwork was key. When exiting a plane, jumpers checked the one ahead of them and sounded off approval of the disposition of their chutes.

“We were supposed to have complete faith in our next-door neighbor, and it worked,” Studelska said.

He made nearly 20 jumps from only 1,000 or 500 feet “for tactical reasons” — jumpers in the air too long could be shot.

He was named a qualified parachutist on May 20, 1944, in Georgia. During a weekend pass, he and his friends went to Warm Springs — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s retreat — and goofed around at the swimming pool.

They missed the bus back to the base the next morning and were told to walk three miles to the next town to catch another one.

They ended up being invited into a home for refreshments. Studelska said they must have looked like five hungry, stupid 18-year-olds. After lemonade and cake, a young girl about their age played guitar and sang hymns.

“This was Bible belt country. My buddies and I appreciated it,” he said.

Studelska was home on furlough during D-Day on June 6, 1944.

“I’m sorry I missed it, but I’m damn sure glad I missed it,” he said.

Twenty days later, Studelska was on the USS George Washington, a former German luxury passenger liner on which President Woodrow Wilson once rode.

The 12-day voyage had soldiers eating two meals a day while standing up. Many got seasick.

“We were packed in like sardines,” Studelska said.

The troops arrived in Liverpool, England, as replacements for those who didn’t survive the Normandy invasion.

“Those that did return were now seasoned veterans and were happy to see us join their ranks,” Studelska said.

On Sept. 17, 1944, Studelska parachuted into Holland 75 miles beyond enemy lines.

“I’ll never forget I landed in a sugar beet field,” he said.

They quickly secured a landing site for gliders with heavy military equipment, but the mission was deemed a failure because the English didn’t capture the bridge at Arnhem.

Studelska and his fellow soldiers mostly took defensive positions. German artillery, he said, was “accurate and devastating.”

He vividly remembers Oct. 1, 1944. His platoon was surrounded by the enemy, but Studelska had a good spot in a foxhole.

By Oct. 2, bodies were strewn across the ground. Studelska had survived but many others didn’t. The experience earned him a Bronze Star.

That day, he and fellow soldiers took turns walking to company headquarters to get food for the unit. Walking back, Studelska came to a row of trees and a haystack. Two German soldiers jumped out with their hands up.

“They were glad to see somebody to surrender to,” he said.

The soldiers carried the rations back to the unit and hung around the rest of the day. They dug a trench for a latrine and shared family photos from their billfolds. They were later interrogated, but Studelska said he didn’t mind them hanging around.

The only German words he knew were, “Come here with your hands up. We will not shoot you.”

“I would never shoot a prisoner,” Studelska said.

After moving to a supposed safe spot in mid-October, Studelska got caught in a heavy barrage on a 200-yard trip to the command post.

He had “no protection from shrapnel whizzing past my ears except the flatness of my body lying face down on the ground. I think prayers alone saved me.”

One of his friends was severely wounded. Another died. That, he said, is “still with my memory over the years.”

He added, “Combat in Holland was no glory, just plain hell.”

On Nov. 10, he was sent to a French camp for training. Soldiers celebrated Thanksgiving with turkey and went to church, thanking God they were still alive. On Dec. 17, he and his unit were taken to the Ardennes Forest in Belgium with little ammo or winter clothing. They established a perfect defensive position on a ridge. On Christmas Eve, they were moved back seven miles and told to prepare for more German attacks.

Studelska said it was a “perfect Christmas Eve with starlight, some snowfall, but I wasn’t at home enjoying my family, church and the goodies that go with Christmas Eve. I was dead tired, hungry and homesick.”

He said there were two enemies to fight — German soldiers and the cold, snow and lack of shelter and warm food. 
“The Battle of the Bulge was unimaginable to describe,” Studelska said.

“The main objective wasn’t to protect democracy; it was to protect each other and ourselves.”

Studelska was later moved back to France to regroup and train. Everyone was happy and relieved on May 8 when victory in Europe was declared, but they were not thrilled to be going to the South Pacific “to finish off the Japanese.”

A month later, Studelska was sent to Frankfurt to join the honor  guard for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. They were housed at I. B. Farben Industry,  a German company that made gases for the extermination chambers.

Studelska often saw President Harry Truman walking around, and he once talked to Gen. George Patton.
Studelska never had to go to the Pacific. Victory over Japan was declared on Sept. 2.

Soldiers were sent home on a points system. Studelska’s number came up on Oct. 9, but it took weeks to finally board a ship.

He celebrated Christmas in Tideworth, England with turkey and all the fixings. He asked a German POW who was serving for another helping and was told “nein, nein” — “no, no.”

“I was ready to stomp him but others intervened and I got a good piece of turkey,” Studelska said.

He was almost killed on the ride home. He walked onto the deck of the Queen Mary during blustery conditions and nearly blew away.

“That would have been a sorry way to end the war,” he said.

At the time, he wasn’t thrilled to march in the New York City victory parade but now considers it an honor. He said he can pick himself out in a 10-minute video clip as the only one being out of step.

He had spent one year, five months and eight days overseas, but he came home with limited rights.

“I left the Army as a private first class. At the time (age 20) I was not able to vote or to buy a beer,” he said.

Studelska went to State Teachers College at River Falls, married Elaine who he met before the war, and took a job in Whitefish Bay.

Studelska earned a master’s degree through night school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then worked as school guidance counselor from 1951 to 1990.

“The work in education was rewarding and the pay was pitiful,” he said.

Studelska was also a Grafton School Board member from 1959 to 1992, the final 10 years as president.

His wife died in 2008. Today, he enjoys Scrabble and “bumming around” with he new partner, Regina.

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