Captain Anthony Bernard Chapek US Army World War II
Anthony B. Chapek etnered the Army in April 1941 and was assigned to Ft. Leonard Wood. On 11-1-1944 he was promoted to Corporal. He moved quickly up the ranks to Captain. In January, 1944, while serving as part of the 159th Combat Engineers he met Major Michael McNamera who was so impressed with him that he never forgot him The following account was written by Major McNamara about Captain Chapek.
Shortly after I took command of the 159th Combat Engineers in January of 1944 and while we were road marching to the Tennessee maneuver area, I had the pleasure of meeting your son and brother Captain (then Lieutenant) Anthony Chapek.
My first impression and last about him was a shy pleasant smile that lit up features in a face found in shape and bearing the characteristics of a rugged strong minded boy who apparently in his young life had met adversities and surmounted them by sheer force of determined resistance to do what he considered right.
He always had a short crew cut haircut, was stocky in build and military in his bearing. He was as strict with himself as he was with the men in his command.
I believe it was in about the third week in January of 1944 I told him that he was to take command of â€œBâ€ Company which command he held until he died in December 1944. He was the only officer of that battalion that continuously held command of his company without being changed.
One of the first personnel problems that comes to my mind about Tony had to do while we were still In Tennessee and while we were not too far away from Camp Forest. He had received a letter from his mother and family advising him that cousin was then a prisoner of war at Camp Forest and being in a dilemma he asked me if he should visit his cousin. At that time while feeling was engendered against the enemy I told him that if he had time to go ahead as it was OK with me. I do not know whether he got the chance as orders came sending us a long distance from Forest. In March we left the Tennessee area for Camp Rucker where I had the pleasure and opportunity of knowing him better.
At Camp Rucker the battalion and Tony’s company prepared for the deadly days ahead by intensive training in the arts of war.
During this period his was the only company to win almost successively the honor of being the Color Company of the battalion week after week. His attention to duty, training and the little details that count resulted in this award.
About this time in the early part of April he advised me that he was to become a father at about the end of June and I was quite as happy as he, for one of my many progeny was to be born in May. I assured him that I only hoped the embarkation of the unit would be delayed long enough for him to see his first born. He was quite excited about that event and took a lot of good natured ribbing from my married officers and which he returned in kind. He was never to see that baby in this world at least because we sailed from Boston on the transport, The West Point, now the liner America and landed in Gourock, Scotland on the 6th of July 1944. All during the days while we were at camp Miles Standish in Boston, I kept asking him if he had any news of the baby but not the happy answer. It came about the twelfth of July while we were enroute to France and temporarily stationed at Bewdley, Stuarts Manor, near Worcester, England.
We landed in France on Utah Beach, near St. Mere De Eglise on July 18, 1944 but the battalion was not completely assembled until the 25th of July and that was at a place know as Barneville Sur mer.
On the 26th of July about five o’clock in the evening he reported to me that he had two men killed and several wounded. His was the first company to suffer the loss of our men. This occurred at La Haye De Puit, France is the St. Lo battle area. His company was engaged in the dangerous occupation of de-mining the area. Needless to say, he felt very bad about the loss of his men. It was about this time that I learned of his devout Catholic practice of reciting the Rosary. As a mater of fact in talking to him about the loss of these men and the anguish I knew he felt about their loss for a young man just being blooded in battle did he reveal the intimate feelings he had for his family. I know you people well as a result of that conversation. The deep affection he held for his mother was evidenced in the concern he felt for his own little family that he was not spared to enjoy in this world. He told me about the job he had in the store before his induction into the army and about his mother who had as an immigrant and alien come to this country and raised up a family under the most trying circumstances. In his eyes were always the gleam of victory. With me such as him how could America lose.
Later that month, on July 29, 1944. The battalion was ordered to join the now famous Task Force â€œAâ€ of the United States Third Army under the famous General Patton. At St. Brieuc I left Tony with his company to hold not only that city but also to defend against the rear of the task force any German thrusts that might be made while the Germans were trying to close the Falaise Gap some one hundred miles to the rear. It was a difficult assignment one with himself and one hundred and some seventy off men fell the task of defending an area some ten miles in length and to prevent the enemy from making a junction in force to annihilate the task force rear. He held this position for some ten days completely alone until the front line of our troops reached him and the attack by the enemy on the Falais Gap had been successfully repulsed.
On the 12th of August I saw him again and this was in the city of Mrlaix where he joined the battalion having completed his mission at St. Brieuc and traveling some one hundred miles into hen occupied enemy territory to join us.
About the end of August I met him on sick call getting his ear cleaned out wherein he had apparently suffered a temporary deafness due to gunfire. Except for one incident at La Haye De Puit where he was a little shaken up from that time on he took whatever action that came as a matter of course and seemed to be in excellent spirits at all times. At no time did I ever see Tony drink to excess nor take more than one drink of spirituous liquors. The opportunity to indulge came often but he seemed to always have in mind the day of returning home. His attendance at Mass was as often as combat permitted. In our training days not a Sunday went by but that I saw him at Mass and often at communion.
In one particular sticky action outside St. Malo we Catholics had the opportunity of receiving communion and Tony was present. It is my firm belief that he died in a state of grace so you need to have no fears that he is in heaven. He was the most clean living man that I ever had the pleasure to have acquaintance with. It was a happy reflection of his family shining from his body and self
It was outside this same St. Malo that Tony made the dash across the road junctions in Viberg that endeared him to his men. At this place, a considerable amount of harassing fire held up the advance of our troops and Tony sizing up the situation stopped an armored car and with machine guns blazing drove across the junctions back and forth as a patrol until superior firepower silenced the sniping long enough to allow the infiltration of his company acting as infantry to mop up the snipers.
At the battle of Breast, the salient selected by him was one facing the Cropon Penninsula and bordering on a shallow strip of water where every night German personnel attempted to penetrate. The position for the battalion was on the Doulas Peninsula with Tony’s company in the center.
While the battle of Breast was raging it was also necessary to have reconnaissance made for the advance of our troops to Lorient and St. Nazire. On the St. Nazaire route, I selected Tony because this was the most dangerous and one that required skill and clear thinking at all times in times of stress. One of his achievements in laying out this route was not only the repair of the route which had been badly damaged by the Germans, but also the repair of a bridge after he had taken from it almost a ton of dynamite.
From about the twentieth of August until Breast fell in September, it was a constant battle and along about the middle of September I left the battalion to go to England for further treatment and hospitalization for gunshot wounds.
The last I remember of him was when I bid him goodbye with his admonition in my ears, â€œbe sure and come back, Major.â€ I never saw him again, for on my return to the continent I had the misfortune of being severely wounded again before joining the battalion and evacuated to the states. This occurred at about the same time Tony was killed. We were at widely separated point sand I did not find out about his death until one of my officers informed me some five months later.
I will forward to you at a later date, the exact details of his last few days on earth as the people who were with him at that time are few in number. I have written them and as of this date received but one answer. I wish to verify each story against the other in order that I may give you factual evidence of what really happened.
On December 21, 1944, Captain Chapek’s company was defending a strategic hill near Scheidgen, Luxembourg. When the enemy counterattacked with strong forces, the Captain repeatedly exposed himself to the intense enemy fire in order to direct and place his men, inspiring them by his fearless courage. Finally when his company was forced to pull back in the face of overwhelming forces, the brave Captain voluntarily remained behind to cover the withdrawal. His men saw him last as he stood alone, pinning down the enemy with rapid and accurate fire from his carbine. Captain Chapek was killed but his heroic stand lives on as a constant inspiration to the men with whom he served. His unselfish courage, his determination and supreme devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service. His death came before ever meeting his only child. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the British Military Cross as well as the Purple Heart and is buried in the Military Cemetery near Hamm, Luxembourg. He is a true American hero.
This was his last letter home.
December 10, 1944
No news again today â€“ seems years since I last heard from you, I know that itâ€™s only a few days, but it seems so much longer. No pkgs have arrived either for over two months. One of these days I should hit the jackpot, I hope itâ€™s soon.
You are probably having the same trouble with mail, you havenâ€™t mentioned it, but you probably are. I try to drop a note to you now and then, as often as time permits, as I know you do your share of worrying, even though I assure you that its needless. You won’t be satisfied, and I won’t either, until I’m safely in your arms again, and Mary Lous in mine.
Weather here is rather contrary.
Here I am again, I ran out of ink at the crucial time! Something always happens, what I was trying to tell you last night was the weather has been spasmodic lately. First rain, then snow. Then sleet, & then a combination of all three. The result, of course, is mud, and where there’s mud there’s Engrs, right? Our work is increasing daily, and I’m glad of it. The more we do now, the sooner it will all end, I hope.
Today I received your letter of 28, Nov. It was so full of â€œyouâ€ that I have already read it through three times from start to finish. It had your personal touch, so much so that I could almost see you writing it. I hope that Mary Lou lets you write many more like it.
So far six pictures of our darling have arrived I donâ€™t know how in the world I can part with ANY of them. I’m going to wait until they all arrive, pick out about 6 or 8 that I really can’t part with and send the rest to you, OK? I’m sure you’ll agree with me, I need them more than anyone.
The ring I told you about is made, and is really pretty, sorta like the ring I’ve always wanted. It looks like the â€œcarbonâ€ copy in the corner of this page. The ring was made for me by a fellow that does it for a hobby. It’s made from two German 5 mark silver coins, its really beautiful, everyone that sees it wants one like it.
You’re certainly on the go from morn til night with Miss Lulu, aren’t you? You’re evidently in the pink and I am so glad. We do have a lot to be thankful for, donâ€™t we? U thank God every chance I have for the tremendous favor he did for me on 18 May of 43, and I know that, if I live to be a thousand, Ill thank him to my dying day.
It makes me feel so good to hear you speak of being so fit, and full of pep. I hope your vim & vigor is lasting, you’re certainly going to need all of the xxx you can muster when I get home. Your good friend Johnny ask about you often and you’re certainly a naughty girl for turning the page so fast, God bless ya~~
Its time for all good little boys to hit the hay, so â€“ here I go-
Good night, bless you both
P.S. A little confession: I lost my eversharp â€œSomewhere in Brittanyâ€ in a foxhole near a hedgerow. I know where I lost it, but circumstances just wouldnâ€™t allow my getting it at the time, and have prevented me doing so since.. Please get a medium priced automatic pencil, and a couple pkgs of leads & send them to me post haste, first class. Thanks a million.
PPS Am enclosing some stamps for my collection. They were given to me by the wife of the owner of the hotel.
This letter was written to his wife by a family he stayed with in Luxembourg.
Dear Miss Chapek:
It’s just a year ago, a few days after Christmas that we got the horrible news of your husband’s death. It might be a small consolation for you so know how Captain Chapek passed his last days. He stayed with us for more than 3 months. I am sure he told you about us in his letters. My father who had stayed in America some time during the last war and Captain went on well together. Your husband felt just like home, he had his own room, we made his laundry and he was another member of our family. In the evening when he sat there writing letters we had to sit next to him and admire the new pictures he just got of his by or of his wife or of his home etc. He told us the news of home and when somebody spoke about Omaha or Nebraska, in the whole town people knew Captain Chapek, and when they heard he had passed on everybody felt upset about it. Nobody could believe it. We went to find out his grave on the nearby city of Hamm near Luxembourg and we shall go and put some flowers on his grave, but the weather didnâ€™t allow it, but as soon as I can Ill send you some. I feel sorry that we couldnâ€™t write to you before, because we lost your address and now we just found it back again and we did write you right away. Captain, he left our home on the 14th of December where Runsted made his offensive, a few days after we had to be evacuated so as the Germans came nearer. We were lucky to get home again after a week and then we got the visit of some boys of Captain. They told us that he was missed. We hoped that he was captured but unlikely for him we heard after that he was killed.
Dear Mrs. Chapek we are sympathizing with you because we have know captain well, so that we can understand your sorrow. But Captain Chapek was such a good soldier that you can be proud of him, he was always aware of his duty and once when I asked him, â€œWhat language do you speak when you get into Germany?â€ he showed on his eyes and added, â€œThis is the language we shall speak when we get there.â€ He died for his country that he liked so well. I know itâ€™s sometimes hard so try to be brave, we hope that time will heal your sorrow. For Mrs. Chapek you know that your husband is not forgotten in Luxembourg, and in our hearts we always keep a nice souvenir of a good American soldier who found his grave in our dear country. General Patton whose last wish was to be buried in Luxembourg among his soldiers, is now sleeping at the cemetery of Hamm. We are thankful so our liberators and will never forget our American friends, especially the Captain.