2014-11-06 / Life in Leelanau

A Veterans Day story

Cedar’s Stachnik recalls WWII bombings
By Amy Hubbell Of The Enterprise staff


RAY STACHNIK, left, smokes a celebratory cigar with Holy Rosary classmate Frank Kabat when they were able to rendezvous in London during World War II. RAY STACHNIK, left, smokes a celebratory cigar with Holy Rosary classmate Frank Kabat when they were able to rendezvous in London during World War II. At age 20, Ray Stachnik was just a farm boy who rarely traveled out of Leelanau County.

Things changed in January 1943 when Stachnik, the oldest of nine children born to John and Mary (Czerniak) Stachnik, was drafted into military service; specifically into the U.S. Air Force.

“Our basic training was at Miami Beach,” the Holy Rosary graduate said. “It was so cold here and so hot there. It really surprised us.”

After basic, Stachnik traveled extensively throughout the country for training with stops in Boise, Idaho; Spokane, Wash.; Denver, Salt Lake City and finally Great Falls, Mont. He was assigned to the 401st Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force and assigned to a base in England.

“We rode over on the Queen Mary,” the 92-year-old recalled on the eve of Veterans Day. “I remember going by the Statue of Liberty.”


CEDAR’S RAY STACHNIK, 92, looks over a scrapbook while reminiscing his World War II days. Stachnik served with the 401st Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force in Europe. CEDAR’S RAY STACHNIK, 92, looks over a scrapbook while reminiscing his World War II days. Stachnik served with the 401st Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force in Europe. The scenery was much different as Stachnik and the other troops as they arrived in England in November 1943.

“You should have seen the boats that were sunk in the harbor by German submarines,” he said.

According to an Air Force online fact sheet, the VIII Bomber Command (later re-designated Eighth Air Force) would plan and execute the American daylight, precision, and strategic bombing campaign over Nazi-occupied Europe.

Stachnik was among the troops who worked with ammunitions.

“We’d load bombs in the bays,” he said, adding that other duties included placing fuses in the bombs.

His 401st Bombing Group operated chiefly against strategic targets, bombing industries, submarine facilities, shipyards, missile sites and airfields.

Stachnik did, however, get to see the sites of London and the affects of German bombings on civilians.

“Those poor people. They were living with children in the subway tunnels,” he said. “It must have been so scary for them.”

While serving abroad, Stachnik wrote home to his family and kept up with Frank Kabat, another Leelanau boy serving in the Air Force.

“Frank and I met at the Red Cross office in London,” Stachnik said. “Jeez it was great to see him.”

At peak strength, the Eighth Air Force, could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and more than 1,000 fighters on a single mission.

However, the most memorable event for Stachnik, 70 years later, what took place on June 6, 1944 — D-Day.

“We knew something was in the works,” he said. “But I knew for sure when I saw a C47 pulling a bunch of paratroopers.”

Stachnik and others in the bombing unit were busy working behind the scenes in England.

“We worked around the clock loading the planes. One flight would go out and another would come back,” Stachnik said.

Even though he was somewhat removed from the battle along the French coastline, Stachnik and his comrades in the staging area in England heard — second hand — what was happening.

“The paratroopers jumped at night and some of them landed in trees,” Stachnik said. “The tree limbs went straight through them.

“It was sad, but what are you gonna do,” he said.

It would be another 11 months before the Allies could claim victory in Europe, on May 8, 1945. But Stachnik didn’t get in on any celebrating.

“They closed the base down and wouldn’t let us out,” he said. “They were afraid we’d raise too much hell.”

Stachnik returned stateside for training — this time by air.

“When we got off the plane (in New Mexico) we all knelt down and kissed the ground,” he said. “We were so happy to be back in the U.S.”

Stachnik was in New Mexico, preparing to work loading B29s in the Pacific. But the training was moot after VJ Day, Sept. 2, 1945.

The following month Stachnik was discharged and returned to Michigan to factory work which he had left before the draft.

In January 1947, the veteran returned to Leelanau County. He met his late wife, Betty Mikowski, at a dance in Cedar and the two were married in 1949 at Holy Rosary. Betty died in 2009. Their grown sons live in Traverse City — Jim, who lives in East Bay Township and Ken, who is pastor of St. Francis Catholic Church.

Stachnik, who retired from the Leelanau County Road Commission after 30 years of service, reflected on two wars since.

“That dictator (Saddam Hussein) tortured kids and had poisonous bombs ... it was like animals,” he said.

Unlike the U.S. troops who returned to civilian life after World War II, Vietnam veterans didn’t have a warm welcome.

“That was sad. We (the U.S.) weren’t supposed to be there,” Stachnik said. “I supposed they had their reasons though.”

Return to top