THE RARE BREED
Recognizing Area Veterans Of World War II
Civilian-Soldier Eddie Vavra
Earned Purple Heart, Bronze Star
Eddie Vavra, April 12, 1945 in France
Edward "Eddie" Frank Vavra was 20 years-old and farming cotton with his father and brothers in the El Maton area when that Dec. 7, 1941 "Day of Infamy" plunged America into World War II.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army on Nov. 1, 1942, beginning a career of about three years as a civilian-soldier, with service in Europe that earned him, among other awards, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Today, Eddie, who suffers with Alzheimer's disease, is a resident of The Legacy in Bay City. His family tapped a grandson-in-law, Bobby Taylor, to compile his story.
"Paw Paw (Eddie) simply took me in as one of his own," Taylor says. "I was lucky enough over the past 10 years or so to have heard him tell many stories of his WWII experiences. But it wasn't until after he was stricken by Alzheimer's that I learned that he had a large cache of documents from his Army experiences."
By researching through Eddie's papers, plus a history of the 35th Infantry Division, 1941-1945, checking three separate web sites about the 35th, and remembering Paw Paw's stories, Taylor assembled Eddie's story. This is it:
Eddie was born March 28, 1921 at Caldwell in Burleson County to Frank John and Johanna Popek Vavra. At a young age his family moved to the El Maton area and began farming cotton.
After joining the Army in 1942, and earning promotion to Corporal, he successfully completed a Non-Commissioned Officer's (NCO) course at Camp Wolters, Texas.
Following months of training exercises, etc., and just before leaving for overseas, he came home and married his sweetheart, Louise Sablatura of Louise on May 6, 1944 in Blessing. He had met her when she started working as a clerk in the El Maton Grocery Store, owned by the Alfred Kopecky family.
One June 6, 1944, he received orders assigning him as "acting" platoon Sergeant of the 1st Platoon of F Company, 320th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division. His regiment landed at Normandy a few days after D-Day. He joined the unit, the Santa Fe Division, on July 20, nine days after the division entered combat.
"About 10 years ago, Paw Paw (Eddie) told me that several days after joining the unit they were moving inland, to St. Lo. They had been engaged in small arms skirmishes on and off for most of that time -- after the division had fought its way out of the French hedgerows," Taylor says.
"At one point, on the outskirts of one of the small towns, he and other members of his squad were pinned down behind a low stonewall by sniper fire.
"The wall wasn't high enough to allow them to sit up, so they lay on their stomachs. They hadn't had much to eat for several days and were very hungry.
"He laughed when he told me that they had been pinned down behind that wall for several hours before one of them rolled over onto his back and realized that they were under an apple tree. In short order, they 'fixed bayonets' and began to knock apples from the tree while taking care to keep out of the snipers' sights."
While serving with F Company, Cpl. Vavra received the Purple Heart for wounds received during enemy action on Aug. 10, 1944 in the area of Mortain, France.
He had volunteered to lead a squad of riflemen in an attempt to make contact with another infantry unit, that was supposed to be paralleling their advance.
As Eddie's squad began its trek, he was third in line when they were fired upon by a battery of German 88s (artillery). One round struck so close that the two men ahead of him were killed instantly and Eddie and the others were wounded.
He said the blast of the explosion had blown everything off of him with exception of his web belt and boots. He had to strip the uniform off of one of his dead comrades in order to continue the mission.
When they finally made contact with the CO of the other unit, he requested supplies so that he and his remaining men could return to their outfit. The request was denied. Instead, Eddie and the remaining squad members were eventually evacuated to the rear area to be treated for their wounds.
Following Germany's surrender in May 1945, Eddie was assigned to the Headquarters 1930 Labor Supervision Co. on June 21, 1945. The company had been activated shortly VE Day in order to supervise displaced persons who replaced American personnel at various jobs, including the building and repairing of communication lines for use of American troops in the occupied countries.
Eddie was assigned the responsibility of acting platoon Sergeant (as a Corporal) and was recommended for promotion to Sergeant by his CO. The promotion was turned down, due to lack of available vacancies.
Eddie returned home later in 1945 and received his discharge. For his service, in addition to the Purple Heart, his medals and ribbons included the World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Campaign Medal, EAME Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Star for battle participation in the Normandy, Northern France and Central Europe campaigns, and the Bronze Star Medal.
It was not until 1985 that he finally received the Bronze Star, the nation's third highest military honor.
Returning home, Eddie resumed his farming occupation. In 1948, he and Louise bought the old Ashby schoolhouse and land at Ashby. They lived in the renovated schoolhouse and raised their five children. Eddie farmed cotton, corn and rice until he retired. Louise died in January, 2001
The five children are Edward Vavra, Jr. of Palacios, Dwight Vavra of Markham; Mary Jo (Mrs. Donnie) Harvey of Ashby; Yvonne (Mrs. Cody) Royston of West Columbia; and Juanita (Mrs. Steve) Schweizer of Simpsonville, North Carolina. There are also 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Eddie and Louise Vavra, Sept. 26, 1999.
Louise died in 2001, after nearly 57 years of marriage.
Mr. Vavra died in May 2004 at the age of 84.
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