Richard Julius Mruzik
Born: December 22, 1917 in St. Louis, Missouri (in Richardson Heights, a suburb of St. Louis)
Passed: September 7, 1999 in St. Louis, Missouri (in Barnes West Hospital in Creve Coeur, a suburb of St. Louis)
Richard Julius Mruzik and son Michael Richard Mruzik about
1948 alongside the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri
Richard was one of six children of George Michael Mruzik and Gertrude Mruzik, nee Filla. The family lived for many years on Easton Avenue in North St. Louis. They were three miles north of Forest Park and he often walked to the Municipal Theater in Forest Park, St. Louis, sitting in the free seats. He attended grade school in St. Louis and graduated Beaumont High School. In November of 1941, he was drafted into the US Army a few weeks before Perl Harbor. He trained for awhile in the Signal Corps at Camp Crowder, MO but was later transferred to Texas and then to North Carolina. He travelled by troop ship to Manchester, England and then served as part of the offensive against the Axis powers in the European Theater of Battle. He was promoted to a infantry squad leader in General Patton’s Third Army and was a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. Because of his combat experience, he got to come home on the Queen Mary Ocean Liner in December, 1945, and was discharged in New York as a sergeant.
He was employed at the American Match Company in St. Louis, MO. and then as a photo engraver serving his union apprenticeship in Galesburg, Illinois with the family maintaining two homes. He then worked for the St. Louis Globe Democrat Newspaper, later as a lithographer for St. Louis Post Dispatch retiring in 1982 after more than 30 years. He and his wife Mary E. Mruzik, nee Werner, moved to Pacific, Missouri around 1965 where they lived for 35 years.
Richard was a member of St. James Catholic Church, Catawissa. He enjoyed spending time with his family. He also liked collecting stamps, playing cards, fishing, and reading. Mr. Mruzik was a member of the Route 66 Senior Citizens Center, Eureka, and the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Pacific. He was also a lifetime member of the Veterans of Battle of the Bulge and Union Local IGUP.
He was preceded in death by his parents; one sister, Margaret Williams and three brothers, George, Thomas, and James Mruzik. He was survived by his wife Mary E. Mruzik, a daughter, Mary M. Lytton and husband Charles of Wildwood, four sons to wit Dr. Michael R. Mruzik of Mountain View, California, Andrew J. Mruzik of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Dr. John C. Mruzik. M.D. of Columbia, Missouri, Joseph Mruzik and wife Tammy of Pacific, MO, 13 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, his older sister Mary Virginia Kluba nee Mruzik, and many friends. A funeral mass was held September 10 at St. James Catholic Church, Catawissa with interment in the church cemetery.
This is the oral tradition of Richard Julius Mruzik intermittently offered over many decades. These stories have long since passed into family legend and are sometimes as much a reflection of the times as of individual choice.
1. Early Tales of His Family
a) Once, for his birthday, his father took him to eat at a lunch counter in downtown St. Louis. This was memorable because most of his birthdays were without presents or celebrations. This was a real treat since his family had very little money and often went hungry. They went to the lunch counter at a local department store. Unfortunately, he found he couldn't finish the entire meal he ordered. He was very much ashamed at wasting food, which his family considered to be more than a sin. Years later he would cry when he told this story.
b) His brother George once broke a glass bottle of milk and cried like a baby since the family couldn't afford another and they were all hungry. He was very much ashamed.
c) His brothers Thomas and James, once wrestled with a knife. Uncle Jim grabbed the knife on the sharp end and Thomas pulled it away cutting Uncle Jim's hands.
d) He was sent every summer to work on an uncle's farm, his Uncle George, near Clover Bottom, Missouri. The stated reason was to strengthen his health, as he was small as a child. The real reason was to get some cheap labor. He had to work hard and one task was to chop down an entire row of trees. Later when he returned to the farm, perhaps about 1950, he cried in agony when he saw all the trees had grown back some decades later. At some time after that, a small lake was added to the farm.
e) He related how, when milking a cow, he would squirt milk at a nosey cat which would always at first recoil in horror and then, belatedly, recognize the milk as food and become a pest. The never ending game of being annoyed at getting wet and then being overly grateful for food was a constant source of amusement.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: Think of him as a skinny boy who was sent to Clover Bottom farm to be fattened up. As a result, after spending the summer with his grandparents and uncles, he came home thinner than he was at his departure. He ran barefoot, was assigned to bringing the cows out of the pasture, and taking them into the barn at night, etc. He said he slept mighty sound on his feather bed, you can betcha.
Uncle Seb [sic, i.e. Sebastian] made home brew and when he partook of the beverage he became mean -- so ornery that Grandma Filla ordered Richard to hide the tub from his uncle so he wouldn’t consume it entirely. That put an adult's job on a youngster; and he said he had to hide from the enraged Seb -- he may or may not have caught him and punished him. I don’t know.
It was the custom at the farm to allow the adults to eat first at the table. Then the children could fend for themselves with knife and fork. Remember how he always ate the part of the chicken "that went over the fence last" at our home. It was because, he once said, that was the only part left at Grandma's table when he finally sat down to dinner.
Incidentally, when I related this story to my Mother (Mary Francis Werner nee Paxton) she said her father would have said Richard was lucky to have been permitted to sit at the table-- even last was better than what Galen Crowe Paxton had to endure as a child-- he was made to stand up to the table and eat last with his siblings. No chairs were allowed for them. ]
f) He said he once built a dam on the creek which ran through the farm; and the creek flooded with unspecified consequences. He said that he was beaten for the offense.
g) He remembered a pair of matched mules that pulled together. Each mule pulled a plow in a direction slightly different from straight ahead but together their off-center forces canceled and they naturally plowed a straight line. He said the mules were mad at not being allowed to work on Sunday's.
h) During the Depression, the entire family had no food except some bread and grease drippings for an entire week. Everyone was hungry all the time. They survived on “bread-and-gravy” which was a staple food ever after in our family.
i) He loved to hunt rabbits. He said his mother was an excellent cook and would always prepare a traditional dish called "Hassenpfeffer." I remember this as being a favorite dish of all the uncles and aunts also. He said the spices and smells of cooking traditional dishes growing up was a truly wonderful part of life.
j) He was active in the "Golden Gloves" youth boxing and apparently managed to advance sufficiently in the standings for it to have been a source of pride his entire life. He was tutored by his older brother, George, who was apparently quite successful.
2. General Army Experience
A lot of his stories were about his years in the Army from early December 1941 through to December 1945. He was drafted about a week before Pearl Harbor and so was entitled to wear the yellow service ribbon for those who served before war was declared. Officers sometimes mistakenly thought he was professional military and so it worked well for him.
His brother, George, was a photo-engraver and was stationed with him at Camp Crowder in South Western Missouri. Uncle George managed to get him into a Signal Corps job doing printing and photo-engraving. It was a fortunate thing, because his original unit was sent to North Africa and badly mauled in and around the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia.
He met Mom who was an Officer teaching classes at Camp Crowder. He was wearing dark glasses so he could sleep in class. Mom called on someone else to answer a question and he jumped up from a sound sleep to the amusement of the entire class.
He and his company commander had to meet with the base commander and he lied and said he knew Mom, an officer, from before the war and that simply he was a man and she was a woman and that trumped strict rules prohibiting fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel. He was punished with many hours of manual labor and was perhaps re-assigned to Europe as punishment as well.
He was sent to Europe and saw combat against the Germans as an infantry squad leader serving under General Patton in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Luxemburg. He returned home some six months after the war ended.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: The dark glasses and back row really got me because no student of mine would be allowed to sleep in my class. I must have told him about that because the next day they were missing. The first encounter with him was at roll call. I really had trouble pronouncing the name and he took real pains to correct my efforts. Later in class, he asked, "Are you from Ohio?" which had nothing to do with our subject under discussion.
When Dad first asked me out he said they could go see his brother and his wife; and I would be allowed to play with their little baby. I accepted, as that seemed to be the safest offer I could ever have.
When Dad first came home from the war, he met us in Nebraska City, and so with my folks as witnesses, answered some of our questions with reserve. Later, some of his stories came out when we were alone, but I always felt they were adjusted for my ears-- whitewashed, so to say.]
3. War Stories
These stories may seem hard; but in mitigation, they reflected more an experience survived and regretted; and were told with a sense of instruction, as of one passing lessons learned so that future mistakes and hardships could be avoided. That there was little glory in war was a recurring and consistent theme. I accumulated these stories piecemeal over many years, as he would never consent to provide a consistent chronological account, or indeed, to participate in any prolonged discussion.
a) While in the Army in North Carolina, before going to Europe, he was in a radio van monitoring aircraft transmissions when he heard a pilot in trouble trying to land. And then he saw the plane crash. He ran over and pulled the pilot from the wreckage. He says that he was the first one on the scene; and that the pilot had seriously smashed his head on the instrument panel. He laid the pilot on the ground as the plane caught fire; and then walked away as others arrived on the scene. He said no one knew probably what he had done. At this time I believe he was in the Signal Corps.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: The pilot Dad pulled out of the wreckage was left with a severed top of head -- something that haunted Dad all his life. Maybe he neglected to mention that because of your tender years. (But I never remembered Dad sparing us any story at all at any age. In later years, even the very hard stories hadn't changed. –MRM)]
b) Once while in training, the army instructor was demonstrating the use of a compass and he purposely put his rifle in close proximity to cause the needle to wander erratically and was gleeful at disrupting the class.
c) Going over to Europe on a troop ship, he said that everyone was seasick but that he didn't permit himself to be sick. He said he just made his mind up not to get sick; and that making a conscious decision worked for him. He was mentally tough enough to do it. He said that you had to take showers in sticky salt water on the boat and couldn't really get clean with a short 30-second fresh water rinse. He was older than most of the others, at 25 or 26, and was made a squad leader with a rank of sergeant. They also had submarine attack drills at random intervals during which everyone scrambled for life preservers.
d) After marrying Mom, he was sent to Manchester, England (perhaps landing in Liverpool), before being shipped to continental Europe. He says he remembered English women hailing the men from town windows as they disembarked.
e) He told of disembarking at Le Harve and then marching thirty miles to the battle field. On the way he carried a buddy's equipment when the man was faltering.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: Dad told many of these things as just statements of fact-- never asking for any praise or attention. At least, that was my impression, since we both had Army experience, it was only the thing to do, not to be for any other reason. ]
f) He remembered visiting the beaches at Normandy, some six months after the D-Day invasion, and said that you could still, occasionally, see bodies wash up on the shore; and that all the minefields had not yet been cleared.
g) He was at one time installing radios in tanks in the Signal Corps; but for some reason, perhaps loosing his temper at the wrong person and wrong time, he was transferred into the infantry into Patton’s Third Army before the Battle of the Bulge. As an infantry squad leader, he said he was really tough on his men but then he "had to be that way". He also said that if any of his men refused any of his orders, he, as squad leader, would shoot them for the sake of the group.
h) He claimed that General Patton was really mean in the sense of being unfair; as an example, he claimed Patton yelled at men in and near to combat for not having their boots shined. He also mentioned the pearl-handled revolvers with disdain.
i) One night in Europe, while manning a machine gun along a defensive line, he saw movement in a row of trees on the horizon. He was the first one to open fire, and then everyone else followed suit. The others on his line, were either not fast enough or not seasoned enough to react as quickly as he did. I think this was before his group saw much combat. He said the sound of a machine gun was not the popularized “ratta-tat-tat” but just a continuous series of loud bangs.
j) During the Battle of the Bulge, he served as a combat infantry squad leader in Luxemburg. He was pinned down in a frozen ditch for two days under fire but his group held the line. When it was finally safe to move, he couldn't walk. He had to be lifted out and carried.
k) At one point he asked for more food from the cooks in a field kitchen near the front lines. He was roughly ordered to move on after he asked, "Is this all we get?" They only gave each soldier a little cooked corn and he got into an argument over it.
l) He said it was common practice for American troops to react to any low flying aircraft with rifle fire and not to worry about the identification.
m) One of the men in his squad was killed immediately next to him as they were manning a machine gun. He was always very sad about that. He told me his name once but when I forgot and when I asked again he wouldn’t talk about it.
n) He remembered surprising a group of Germans crossing a stream. His group opened fire. He said he fired at a particular individual and saw him fall. He said he was a young man. Later he complained of recurring nightmares.
o) At some point in the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans stationed a Tiger Tank on a crossroads. He said they were very clever about choosing a dominating position with clear fields of fire in several directions. He somehow managed to blow up the tank with a dynamite charge; and claimed he deserved a Silver Star for that exploit which he never got.
p) He remembers hearing German sergeants rousing their men who would shout just before a charge "Raus, Raus, Raus mit em." He often used this on us kids with humor.
q) He also had a vivid remembrance of charging across a field under fire and having a bullet pass harmlessly through a loose fold in his shirt. It just brushed against his tunic as he ran. He was more astonished at the close brush than anything and said he wasn’t frightened just amazed. He seemed to have a sense of fate about that and gave credit to Divine Providence.
r) He said that many officers mistakenly thought that they had to lead a charge and were preferentially killed as a result. He asked me not to do that. He said that if anyone was shot in a charge, you couldn't stop no matter how much you wanted to help. You just had to go on and that that was hard. He said this with a profound regret that you absolutely could not provide assistance.
s) He got to within 8 km of the famous Remagen bridgehead. They had been ordered to cross the Rhine on it; but it collapsed before their turn came. So they crossed the Rhine into Germany on a pontoon bridge nearby.
t) He remembered having to drive a truck in a night convoy without lights and having to keep within several feet of the truck in front is order to keep it in sight. He said that was very tricky indeed.
u) He said that sometimes he was tasked to lead a reconnaissance patrol. He said it was necessary for everyone to get a lot of sleep during the day while he went around getting extra ammunition and memorizing the map of the local terrain.
v) While watching war movies with the family in the 1950's, he would get frantic at an actor's inability to dodge a hand grenade. He said there were 10 ways to avoid one. He also said the correct way to eliminate a machine gun was to have people on line lay down covering fire; and then to flank the position and throw hand grenades.
w) He said he once had occasion to cross some railroad tracks where there were several railroad boxcars that, to his horror, were full of dead bodies. He said the stench was overpowering and unforgettable.
x) One day he was moving German prisoners to the rear when an elderly Dutch woman came out with some blankets for the prisoners. He ordered her to move back but she refused and kept walking forward. He aimed for her midsection but shot her in the shoulder. He said a lot of the Dutch were Nazi sympathizers and he felt no remorse. He also noticed that after a horse had dumped a load of manure on the street, a Dutch woman came out of the house and cleaned up the mess with a dustpan.
y) He was assigned the job of being the Company Armourer with responsibility for maintenance of the company's weapons. He remembers getting a Czech pistol made by Walther and spending many hours before discovering how to disassemble it; something about having to rotate the barrel a quarter turn before being able to remove a crucial piece. In this capacity, he once fired a grease gun, a 45 caliber automatic gun, and said it climbed so much on firing he couldn’t hold it on a target.
z) He said that if they saw anything they wanted immediately after the war, they just took it. This included cars of the street and whatnot. He said a lot of his friends had Volkswagens.
aa) He actually marched through the Arc de Triumph in Paris in one of the large parades for the newsreel cameras. He said he enjoyed Paris very much. But he also said that many of the troops welcomed as heroes in European parades were support troops who only served well behind the lines.
bb) He also got to know London and was able to identify Piccadilly Circus and other London Landmarks in an occasional movie or news report.
4. Anecdotal Stories
a) While in Germany after the War, he, and a bunch of his friends, borrowed a car from a friend who was wounded and was in the hospital. Late at night, after a serious drinking bout, they were driving back to camp on a narrow road when they saw the lights of an oncoming car. He said he was at the wheel and says that he kept the gas pedal to the floor and stayed in the middle of the road. He didn't bat an eyelash, and at the last moment, the other car ran off the road into a ditch. Apparently, the passengers of the other car contained some high-ranking officers who got their license number or otherwise tracked down the registered owner. The Military Police visited their friend in the hospital who was in no condition to even walk. Their friend denied any knowledge of who had use of his car and claimed it must have been temporarily stolen or borrowed.
b) Once just as they were coming off the front lines, they came across a deserted Belgium bank and decided to blow open the safe with a bazooka. He said he and his friends were awash with Belgium money for a short while.
c) He had a duffel bag full of diamonds and other items; apparently a large amount of cash as well. It was ripped open with a bayonet and everything stolen.
d) Once in a bar, he and a friend were drinking with a group of French Canadians. Unfortunately, a friend started making disparaging remarks about other customers. Before a fight could start, he hit his friend and knocked him out. Then he carried him out. But, just as he were leaving, he yelled back "Canuck's" and then closed the door and jammed it shut with his bayonet. Then he ran down the street carrying his friend to safety while the incensed bar patrons tried mightily to get at them past the locked door.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: I think he was drinking with the French Canadians who were friendly and called him the “little Yank.” He said the tables were so full of empty bottles that it was impossible to see them. Apparently some black African American troops were also present and no one remembers if there was an argument or what it could have concerned. In any event, the French Canadians decided to leave and pushed or half carried him out of the bar. They then wedged the door shut with bayonets, which everyone carried, yelled, "N****" back into the bar, and ran down the street in glee carrying Dad. The men who did the pushing and carrying were huge and overly fond of drinking. Dad said they lived near a famous river-- I forgot the name of it-- and always asked him to come for a visit. ]
e) He used to sell radio tubes on the black market in Europe after the war. He said the Army was just destroying surplus equipment and he hated to see the waste. One day an officer asked him to get a group together to search the local village to discover who was selling government property to the civilians. He assigned his men to search different sections but chose the shop in which he had been selling contraband for himself. He walked in, said, "Thank God I don’t see any black market items here!" and walked out. The owner was apparently somewhat shocked and confused.
f) One day in Europe after the war, he sneaked out under a hole in the fence and went to town without authorization. In formation, the next day, an officer asked him why he was A.W.O.L. at bed check the previous night and how he had gotten off base. He said in a loud confident voice that he had "crawled through a hole in the fence" and the officer was amused and just said that the hole would have to be fixed.
g) Traveling home from Europe on the Queen Mary, he was topside when an officer told him to get a group of men together to do some kitchen work. He got a group of people together, ran them down one level, moved them over to the next stairway, up to the original level, and then said "OK, everybody disappear and forget about this!"
h) On the Queen Mary while coming home one day, the entire area his group was in, was surrounded and isolated (very efficiently, he said), while everyone was checked for illegal materials. He had a German Lugar for which he, fortunately, had war souvenir papers.
i) He remembers helping some family in Belgium. He started to ask me to visit them when I went to Europe but then couldn’t remember them.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: While stationed in Holland, Dad, who always loved children, made friends with many little ones; and gave his chocolate and other items to them. As a result the parents were very friendly toward him. Also, his buddy could speak Flemish when they were in Belgium, so that opened many doors to them. ]
j) He brought home a German Lugar pistol as a war souvenir, but it was stolen in Wellston (St. Louis) by the son of our landlord, a Mrs. Malarkey. This apartment was only several blocks away from Grandmother Tillie's apartment. I remember him telling Mrs. Malarkey what he really thought of her as we left her apartment for the last time while Mom and I and Andrew cowered in the car stuffed with belongings.
k) He brought back an empty bazooka shell for us kids to play with. He said that he had emptied all the powder and burned it and that if fizzled and burnt quickly rather than violently exploding. The parts were strewn around the basement for years before they rusted and got lost.
l) He told of hunting rabbits in northern Arkansas/Texas with his army friends with M-1's on which they had removed a part to make it fully automatic. He said it was hard to hold the weapon steady. He said he would have been court martialed if the Army had discovered his intentional modifications of the M-1. He later told the Army that the part had worn out.
m) He sent a large fraction of his army pay home with the expectation that his mother and brothers would save it and that it would allow our family to get off to a good start. But when he returned, they had spent most of it and there was almost nothing left.
[Commentary of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner: Uncle Tom saved some of Dad's army allotment and returned it to us after the war. I think most of it went to Grandmother Tillie before they knew we were to be married, but after that, the money was saved for Richard. ]
n) He was fearful of being recalled during the Korean conflict but was not.
o) In downtown St. Louis, about 1955 years old or so, he met on the street a former member of his squad. The other man was strangely reticent and he was strangely animated. He went to get the car and I had a chance to talk to the man. I asked if he was really tough on his squad and if the war was really bad. The man refused any comment and told me to ask my father these questions. They both remembered their friend who was killed on a machine gun next to them.
p) Around 1956, when the Germans were rearmed to take their place in NATO as an ally against the Russians, he was distraught. He thought their old ways would reappear and that they would again be a menace to world peace. He thought it inevitable that they would again try to conquer the world, that it was in their nature; and their expressed intention when he was in Europe. He thought the entire country was unrepentant Nazis.
Richard Julius Mruzik and wife Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee
Werner on 40th Wedding Anniversary about 1985
Richard Julius Mruzik on High School graduation from Beaumont
High School in St. Louis, Missouri about 1937.
Richard Julius Mruzik on First Communion about 1924.
Sgt. Richard Julius Mruzik, US Army Infantry Squad Leader,
coming off the front lines after the Battle of The Bulge in
Germany in the closing days of WWII.
Richard Julius Mruzik giving his first son simple on-the-job
training on how to shoot Nazis at the family farm in Clover
Bottom, Missouri about 1948. Squeeze, don’t jerk, the trigger.