NEW ULM - While thousands of people visit the beaches, cemeteries and stone-walled villages of Normandy to recognize the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion this week, a 96-year-old New Ulm man who didn't make the trip overseas described the difficulties and joys of his World War II military service.
Carl Stadick still has a sense of humor. "I'm not going over there. I take too many pills" he said about going to Normandy for the observance.
Stadick was drafted into the U.S. Army on Jan. 17, 1943 and wound up in the 203rd General Hospital unit.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Carl Stadick of New Ulm points to shrapnel still in his hand that has been there since the June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion at Normandy coast, Utah Beach, France.
Fast forward to the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944, Stadick was riding an amphibious landing craft that stopped a bit short of where he would have liked.
"We had to get out of the boat in about 35 feet of water. It was too deep and it was dark. It was bad," Stadick said. "Lots of guys got hit by shells right after getting out of the landing boats. Shells would hit us, and poof, soldiers were gone. I was shot in the index finger of my left hand. Oh, did it hurt, but I kept going, carrying medicine and mail."
Allied soldiers landed on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach under heavy fire from large guns. The shore was mined and covered with obstacles like wooden stakes, metal tripods and barbed wire making it difficult and dangerous to clear the beaches.
German D-Day casualties were estimated at about 1,000 men while allied casualties (injuries) were at least 12,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.
Stadick said his hand stopped hurting not long after that and didn't hurt again until 20 years after the war when he learned there were five pieces of shrapnel in his body.
He praised the maneuverability of the British Spitfire fighter planes and their ability to shoot down German fighter planes. "They were really fast. They'd follow a German plane and move from one side of it to the other before German pilots knew it," Stadick said.
"I saw lots of soldiers all the time, often carrying wounded guys to ambulances. Sometimes the wounded came in so fast, we couldn't handle them all. You see everything in that unit," he added. "I remember seeing a German woman with four small kids that appeared to be starving. I gave them four boxes of food, and they waved at me. I remember getting ambushed in a truck. They told me to put it in second gear and go as fast as I could through the gunfire. It was scary."
Returning to Camp McCoy, Wis., Stadick said he felt fortunate to make it out of France and Germany alive. "It made me realize there was someone up above guarding me," he said.
Stadick said he most enjoyed his time in Scotland, after crossing the Atlantic in a converted former ocean liner converted to a troop ship. While the unit's mission was supposed to be a secret, soldiers recalled people lining the English roads, standing on rooftops, waving American flags and making "V for Victory" hand signs soldiers rode by on trains.
"Scotland was really beautiful," Stadick said. In England, he reported enjoying the peaceful and scenic countryside and finding local pubs.
After the war, he worked as an mechanic in Santa Ana, Calif. He moved to New Ulm in the early 1990s.
Stadick said he eats just about anything he wants to, doesn't gulp food, enjoys walking and planting flowers outside Oak Hills Living Center. "I'm always busy," he said. "I like my old radio and phonograph that's as old as I am and I like playing my two harmonicas."
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).