Willibold A. Stefan
Willibold Adolph Stefan, “Willy” was born on March 19th, 1913 to parents Adam and Marie Stefan in Neumarkt, Czechoslovakia, now known as Úterý, Czech Republic. This town is located 60 miles east of the city of Prague. Willy was the eldest child of the family. Josef “Joe” was born in 1915, Johann “John” in 1920, and Rudolf “Rudy” the next year. While in Czechoslovakia, Willibold would attend school up to end of 8th grade.
|Former Stefan residence|
132 Baird Avenue, Mt. Ephraim, NJ.
On the evening of February 26, 1930, Adam was visiting his sister who now lived directly across the street. A 10-year old boy by the name of John Layton ran into the Biederman home and said that Adam’s house was on fire. Fire companies from Mount Ephraim, Bellmawr and Runnemede confined the fire to the second floor. The cause was determined to be defective wiring in the attic.
|SS Albert Ballin|
Willy was involved in an minor motor vehicle accident at Fourth and Chestnut Streets in Camden on the afternoon of February 28, 1937. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident. The other driver, Leroy Oliver was arrested on charges filed by Stefan, believing that Mr. Oliver was drunk. Leroy Oliver was later convicted of driving while intoxicated as well as disorderly conduct, and sentenced to four months in the county jail. I unfortunately do not have much information about Willibold's life prior to the war, but his occupation was listed as a butcher according to the ship manifest that brought him to the U.S. in 1930 as well as the 1940 census.
My grandmother (Kathyn Mingle Weist) had lived next door to the Stefans for many years and remembered the boys always playing cards in the basement. She shared a story with me about watching a baseball game once at the field that was located at the corner of Lincoln and Garfield Aves. Someone had hit a foul ball which struck her in the head, causing her to bleed. "Willy had this new yellow Chrysler car. He was there when I got hit by the baseball. Willy rushed over to helped me by holding a shirt over the cut to control the bleeding. He loaded me up into his vehicle and drove me home. I was so worried about getting blood all over his nice new car!" (On a personal note, the site of this ball field was later to become the a home where my father and uncles were raised.)
|141st Infantry Regiment Insignia|
|36th Infantry Division insignia "T-Patch"|
In 1941, the Division went to Louisiana for maneuvers, where they had mock battles with General Walter Kreuger's Third Army. In February 1942, they moved to Camp Blanding, Florida and prepared to go overseas. Orders changed, however, and instead of shipping out in the summer, the Division continued training in the Carolinas. The Division then spent the winter in Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. On April 2, 1943, having come together from staging areas at Camp Edwards and Fort Dix, New Jersey, the 36th Division sailed out from New York and arrived at Oran, Algeria, eleven days later.
Upon arrival in Algeria, the 36th Division was placed into the newly organized Fifth Army, was held in combat reserve. They boarded onto rail cars and transported one hundred miles inland to a place called Magenta for additional training. In a political move to avert Spanish or German designs on French Morocco, the 141st Regiment as well as additional soldiers from the 36th were shuttled westward five hundred miles to spend a leisurely summer in the cork forests near Rabat and Casablanca. After their respite, the T-Patchers headed to Arzew, Algeria to train with the 1st and 45th Infantry Division before the big invasion.
|The Invasion of Italy map|
While cruising to Italy, the days were calm and sunny. The nights were cool and clear. This voyage was a welcome break from days of rigorous training and planning for the invasion. Troops gambled, sang, enjoyed a hot meal and especially appreciated having showering facilities. The extreme heat, cold and dirt of Africa was forgotten.
On the evening of September 8th, Italy had announced their surrender to the Allies. Some soldiers were thinking this upcoming operation would be an uneventful one. Later that evening, however, the convoy was spotted and attacked by German aircraft. The element of surprise, which the invasion forces were depending on was now eliminated. At 2300hrs, the call was given for final preparations of the troops and to lower the landing craft into the water for the invasion.
At one minute past midnight on September 9th, 1943, the ship’s loudspeaker announced the order for troops to board their boat teams. Soldiers clambered down cargo nets into awaiting landing craft. Motors sputtered and then roared as the first boats pulled away. Soon the calm sea was alive with snub-nosed craft, circling to reach their proper positions. In the darkness some of the coxswains failed to locate their leaders. Lanes had been previously swept through to clear mine fields, but occasionally mines broke free and drifted into the paths which boats were trying to follow. Spray drenched the men and their equipment. Many of the soldiers became seasick. But at length the LCM's (Landing Craft, Mechanized) and LCVP's (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), carrying the first assault waves, turned east behind the guide boats toward the rendezvous deployment line, 6,000 yards from the Salerno beaches.
The 141st and 142nd Regimental Combat Teams (36th Division) were to land as assault forces, in six waves on the Paestum beaches (designated RED,GREEN,YELLOW, and BLUE), advance to a railroad about 2,500 yards inland, reorganize in assembly areas, then move on to their objectives-the hills 10 miles distant. Once established on the hills, they would control the entire southern half of the Salerno plain.
|Coming ashore at Paestum Beaches|
The 141st Infantry began working through wire obstacles and mines. Intense fire from machine guns, artillery, mortars, and tanks made progress very difficult. On Yellow Beach, the first three assault waves were pinned down after advancing about 400 yards inland and could move only by crawling under fire. The 3rd Battalion companies quickly became split up and were unable to reorganize after landing.
The major portion of Company "L" commanded by Captain Edgar Ford of Rusk, Texas, pressed well forward but the remainder of his company were unable to reform. They had fought their way inland mostly in groups of two or three. These small groups were cut off from the main body of their company becoming trapped on 3 sides by enemy fire. The Battalion had no contact with Companies "L" and “I“ and only a small portion of Company “K”. Captain Ford was later able to re-establish contact and directed effective fire which broke up an enemy tank attack. It was during this chaotic time that Willibold was killed when an artillery shell fragment struck him in the head.
Willy’s niece, Beverly Bauer said that his group cleared the way for his brother Joseph to come ashore as he was part of the second group of soldiers who landed on those same beaches. Joseph however, was later wounded in Italy. A nephew, Joseph Stefan said, "Uncle Joe had been shot by machine gun fire up the leg, causing one leg to be shorter than the other. They had to cut a nerve to get him out of pain."
|Mt. Soprano American Cemetery|
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
|Willibold Stefan grave marker|
He was survived by his parents, brothers Joe, John, Rudy, and Walt. Willy was engaged to neighbor, Olga Davis, whom he had planned on marrying after returning from the war. She later married his brother Joe.
Beverly also shared a story about her grandmother Marie, attending the Mt. Ephraim movie theater one day to see news from the warfront. There was footage of prisoners of war being marched down a street. Among these prisoners, she swore that she saw her Willibold. Because of this, Marie had always waited for her son to come home until the day she passed away.