Connellsville's own Straitiff served with famed World War II parachute regiment
The HBO series “Band of Brothers” chronicles the fighting exploits of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, across Europe during World War II, including action on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Few realize that a man from Connellsville, William P. “Bill” Straitiff, had become a member of the 506 regiment and trained at Camp Toccoa, Ga., where E Company had trained. His family had moved to Fairchance when Straitiff was in the eighth grade.
Straitiff parachuted into Normandy with his unit, A Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, and fought his way across Europe through many of the battles re-enacted in “Band of Brothers.”
“Uncle Bill never really talked about the war, except to a niece on his side (of the family,)” said his grand-nephew, Brett Hickle of Parkersburg, W.Va.
Hickle said Straitiff, when roused from a slumber, would bolt upright suddenly.
Straitiff made it through D-Day unscathed, through the situation was confused. Paratroopers were scattered across the Normandy area, with units mixed. Straitiff, however, was with his unit when it attacked and liberated Ravenoville in Normandy. His name is on the memorial at that location, which honors the Americans for liberating the town.
The niece, Twila Sike, said Straitiff talked about kicking in a door as the battle for the town ended. He entered and heard noises off to the side. He lowered his rifle and saw in the darkness women and children cowering in fear.
Later he participated in the attack on Carentan, France, also featured in “Band of Brothers.” He parachuted into Holland for Operation Market Garden, which the show featured.
Straitiff was wounded in December 1944 when Able company was fighting in Noville, Belgium.
Another member of the 101st Airborne Division saw Straitiff on a stretcher in the aid station in the church in Bastogne, Belgium. For his wounds, he was awarded a Purple Heart medal.
On recovering, he rejoined his unit.
Grady Boykin, a member of the 101st Airborne Division from Mississippi, remembered Straitiff was the chief of a section during a patrol when planes were flying over them, according to Hickle.
Following Bastogne, the company moved through Germany, liberating a concentration camp in Landsberg. Straitiff participated in the raid on Himmelgeist. He survived that. Then his unit moved to Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler's mountaintop retreat.
He found himself with his company by the end of the war,in Austria.
One story Straitiff told, according to Hickle, was recounted in a book written by fellow soldier Donald Burgett. In the book “Beyond the Rhine,” Straitiff and a group of his fellow soldiers met a German SS officer on a bridge in the town of Taxenbauch, Austria. After a conversation with the man in which he bragged about how he treated Jews and Polish citizens, all of the soldiers were upset. Straitiff challenged the man to “fair fistfight.” In Burgett's version, Straitiff, aided by his fellow soldiers, beat the man, then rolled him off the bridge into the water.
Straitiff told family members that no one was killed, according to Hickle.
Straitiff, a sergeant by the end of the war, received many awards for his service, including the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Parachute Badge with arrowhead and two stars, Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, French Fourragere, Belgium Fourragere, Netherlands Orange Lanyard, and other awards.
After the war, he met and married Nevada Victor in 1947. She was a former ambulance driver in the Women's Army Corps. They moved to Delaware. She died in 1992. He died on April 10, 1999. They are buried in Mountain View Memorial Park in Fairchance.
For a long time, the graves were not marked as those belonging to veterans. That has been remedied.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-626-3538.