90, St. Clair Shores
Stanley Kokuba was born in Jere, West Virginia, near Morgantown. He worked in a steel mill and took a welding course at the submarine yards in Connecticut after he graduated from high school, before he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
He was assigned to the 795th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion and took part in winter exercises in Tennessee before he was put on a ship bound for Swansea, Wales, in April 1944.
“We were in a big convoy, and the submarines chased us all the way across the ocean. You could hear them,” Kokuba recalled. “And the destroyers were keeping the submarines away from us.”
Kokuba spent D-Day protecting a seaport in Cardiff, but it wasn’t long until he was sent to join in the liberation of Europe.
Stanley Kokuba, 90, arrived at Utah Beach on July 17 with the U.S. Army’s 795th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion.
He arrived in France with the battalion on July 17, 1944, dropped by the Navy on a then-deserted section of Utah Beach.
His group of two dozen soldiers marched into the woods nearby, where they put up two-man tents and waited for their guns and supplies to arrive by sea. When their canteens ran dry, Kokuba volunteered to look for water. He found a well at a farmhouse outside of Sainte-Mère-Église, the scene of bitter fighting between American paratroopers and German defenders.
“They just got the Germans out of there. Nobody would go with me. They were all scared,” Kokuba said. “I went down there and found a farmhouse, and I knocked on that door. It was desolated, you know — an old dirt road. A little girl came to the door, about 4 or 5 years old. She was scared, too.”
The girl pointed to the well where Kokuba filled the can. On the way back to camp, he crossed a farmer’s field where American troops were ambushed by a German sniper sometime after D-Day. The bodies were gone. Only bloodied, discarded equipment remained.
“I seen the stuff sticking out of the ground. I walked in there, and there was helmets with bullets right straight through there,” Kokuba said. “The sniper was up in the tree catching them as they came through that field, and he was just picking them off. He must have got at least 10 of them.”
Kokuba took a German helmet back to camp as a souvenir with the water, but he said it never made it home by mail.
His battery later protected airfields and bridges as the Allies sped across Western Europe to crush the remaining forces of the Third Reich.
As they approached Germany, Kokuba said the battalion stumbled upon a cache of wine hidden in huge barrels on the banks of the Rhine River. He said another soldier fired a shot through one of the barrels and that they filled their five-gallon cans with German white wine.
“After they filled five cans up, it’s still coming,” Kokuba said as he remembered the spilled wine. “The next day, they come up. They must have been looking for us.”
The Army never learned what happened to the wine. But Kokuba said he was traveling in Florida years later with his wife when they met two women from Germany who knew about the hundreds of gallons spilled on the banks of the Rhine. The women said the cellar belonged to a relative.
Kokuba returned to the United States and settled in the Detroit area, where his family had moved while he fought in Europe. He married his wife in 1953, and the couple had a son and a daughter. They now have five grandsons and two great-grandsons.
He worked more than 60 years as a union plumber.