68 years late

William “Buck” Monoski, of Williamsport, earned a Bronze Star Medal for his service in Europe during World War II.

The Army took a mere 68 years to get him the honor.

Brig. Gen. John Gronski, commander of the 28th Infantry Division, presented Monoski with his Bronze Star – the fourth-highest decoration for valor in combat – at a family party on Dec. 23.

Gronski brought Monoski a letter from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and a “pocket medal” that division commanders can award at their discretion.

“I don’t know what the big fuss was – I was just doing what I was supposed to do over there,” Monoski said. “For years after I was discharged I wouldn’t even talk about it … I got chills up and down my spine and got sick to my stomach.”

“The general said, ‘This isn’t for the fighting,’ ” Monoski said. ” ‘It’s for the lives you saved with your thinking and quick decisions things happen so quick over there that you couldn’t remember.”

But, Monoski still has plenty of compelling war stories.

Gronski asked about one patrol when Monoski’s unit went through German lines.

“I asked (the general), ‘How do you know that?’ and he said ‘We have records of all that,’ ” Monoski said.

On that occasion, Monoski’s fluency in German, which he picked up in his time overseas, saved American lives.

“The squad leader came back and said, ‘Hey Buck, what are they arguing about back there?’ I told him, ‘One said they should shoot, and the other didn’t want to give away their position’ I pushed the guy ahead of me in the back and said ‘Macht Schnell!”

Monoski was known as the “old man” of his outfits – at the ripe age of 23, he had a wife and two children back home.

“They offered a field commission and I turned it down,” he said. “The Germans were knocking these squad leaders off too fast.”

Monoski served in the 75th Division at the Battle of the Bulge, in the Ardennes Forest, at the crossing of the Rhine and in the Colmar Pocket.

In European action during 1944 and 1945, the fighting and “mop-up” action intermingled.

“We came to one village, and there was one fellow I stopped from firing a grenade launcher,” Monoski said. “They came over with their hands up. I realized that it was wounded German soldiers that they left for us. I said, ‘Don’t shoot these guys, we can use them.’ We made them carry our equipment.”

When Gen. George S. Patton’s tanks were taking the same route as Monoski’s unit, Buck volunteered to man a gun on the spearhead tank.

“I was tired of walking,” he said.

At the Rhine River, Monoski’s unit did decoy work.

“We were running a Jeep around and making it backfire to make it sound like one of our tanks. They dug in because they figured that’s where we were crossing,” he said.

A bridge still existed downriver.

“The German was drunk and we got him before he could blow it up. The Germans went down into their foxholes to see what we’ll do and then we hit them in the middle. The ground was vibrating and the foxholes kept caving in.”

That battle damaged his hearing.

“When I went turkey hunting, I couldn’t hear the turkeys,” Monoski said. “I was using an M1 (rifle) to pick off Germans and they sent me up a Springfield ’03 sniper’s rifle.”

Monoski, who will be 91 in April, was born in Renovo and moved to Thomas Avenue while in grammar school.

The Bronze Star was marked to go to Monoski at the end of his tour in Europe.

“The commanding officer told him they had medals for him and they wanted him to stay and get his medals,” said Tom Monoski, Buck’s son. “It would take two more weeks and he wanted to go home, so he went home.”

“I killed a lot of Germans out there, but I wasn’t proud of it,” Monoski said. “It was years after we were discharged that the fear set in – as an example, a teenager goes at high speed, rolls down the bank … they have no fear. My staff sergeant even admitted that it’s true, that’s why they like those young fellows – they’ve got no fear.”