So long, Bill Krovchek

Bill Krovchek | Army (Photo: K Farkas)/Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh)

In Memoriam

Bill Krovchek

January 2, 1918 – November 11, 2014

It is always heart wrenching whenever we lose a friend of the Veterans Breakfast Club.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones, of course, and we know that our extended family of veterans and storytellers will feel the loss.  As the writer Pat Schweibert so sincerely puts it, “When one of us is missing, the whole world seems empty.”

Unfortunately, we never had the chance to sit down with Bill to capture his story in-depth as part of our oral history project, but we did preserve a precious moment with him at our June 2014 breakfast in Beaver County.  As such, we are reminded that every veteran’s story matters.

So, in Bill’s honor we want to share his amazing story here, as he shared it with us.

The Big Red One

Todd DePastino:  Bill Krovchek, you were in the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division.

Bill Krovchek:  Yes.  Anybody else here in the Big Red One?  [silence]  No . . . well, there’s a reason for that.  They’re all dead.  [crowd sighs]

TD:  That’s the legendary Army division.  When did you join the First Infantry?

BK:  January 27th [1942] I went into the Army.  Drafted naturally, and then we went to Camp Wheeler in Georgia.  Got our training and then they put us in the First Infantry Division.  Then from there we went to Florida for maneuvers and then back to Indian Town Gap.  They told us when we were coming up that we’re going to God’s Country.  Pennsylvania, naturally, is God’s country as far as I’m concerned.  Anyway, they said if we lived near Indian Town Gap we’ll get a pass to go home before we go overseas.  Well, it didn’t happen.  They froze us in there.  They cancelled all the passes, and so I went in to see the Captain.  I said, when we were down in Florida they said we were supposed to get passes to go home.  Well, he wouldn’t do it.  He said we were froze in.  And then he gave me a funny look.  Later, I figured there’s something wrong here.  So I told my buddy, George Batz, who was my neighbor practically, I said, “Hey George, you want to go home with me?”   So both of us went home.

TD:  You went AWOL?

BK:  Yeah, we went home.  But we came back Sunday night to the camp, and then we got punished.  They made us run around a field with a full field pack.  The Lieutenant in charge was sitting on a table just watching us, and there was this building on the other end of the field.  Well, three or four guys would always sneak behind there and stop.  The rest of the guys would go around, and then they’d come back, stop, and they’d relieve each other.  The Lieutenant never knew the difference.  [crowd erupts with laughter]

So anyway, we then went overseas on ships.  We hit Africa on October the 8th, 1942.  I went into the service on January 27th and we were in battle on October 8th.  We took the Germans out of there, and then we went up north of Tunisia and took the Germans out of there, too.  Then we went to Sicily on July 21st or 24th, something like that.  That was another invasion that we were in.  We took the beach.  They had tanks surrounding us and our navy came in and they were shooting point-blank right at the tanks on the beach.  And that was a big thing for the navy because they never shoot at tanks [laughs]. Anyway, we took Sicily and we were waiting for Anzio.  They were having a big problem there with that big monastery on the hill–Monte Cassino.

Well, they didn’t need us so we got back on ships and went back to England and trained for France.  Since we were the most experienced battle men, we got the best job—Omaha Beach.  That was murder [pauses].  We were assigned thirty tanks when coming in.  Twenty-seven sank coming right off the assault boats. They went right down to the bottom, with the men in them.  Some of them got out.

But we were supposed to take the guns out–those big guns.  We didn’t have no backup.  Barbed wire in front of us.  Nobody took the barbed wire out.  Engineers were supposed to.  But finally, after about three hours lying on the beach . . . bullets flying . . . [pauses, chokes back emotion unable to finish].

TD:  [places hand on Bill’s shoulder] Thanks so much for your story, Bill.  [applause]