Stanley Peter Kosta
Staff Sergeant – U.S. Army, 9th Infantry Division,
47th Infantry Regiment
World War II (1943-1945)
Stanley Peter Kosta of San Rafael, CA was born on May 5, 1917 in San Francisco. At the age of ten, Kosta moved with his family to Los Angeles, where they would live for the entirety of Kosta’s adolescence. Kosta’s father was a waiter at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, a private social and athletic club that counted many prestigious actors, politicians, and socialites as members. Kosta commented that his father was “with the big shots.” With the end of the 1920′s came the Great Depression, an economic meltdown that caused many young people like Kosta to drop out of school in order to provide for their families. While dropping out of Franklin High School meant forgoing a diploma, Kosta understood that his family could benefit more from his working than from his going to school. This attitude was common among “Depression babies” such as Kosta. After leaving high school, Kosta worked in a mannequin factory, two hotels, and a brewery. While Kosta would devote much of his life at his job to the brewery, he claimed that it was in the hotel business that he learned about life.
When the United States entered WWII in 1941 there was a wave of patriotism in San Francisco. Kosta claimed that everybody who could serve, did serve. In fact, service was an expectation of young American men. Prior to his being drafted into the Army, Kosta overheard a young woman comment, “I think it’s disgusting to see a young fellow without a uniform on.” Kosta himself was drafted in 1943 and sent to basic training in July of the same year. Although entering the military meant leaving his wife and young child, Kosta knew that he had a duty to fulfill.
For his basic training, Kosta was sent to Camp Wolter’s in Mineral Wells, Texas. It was at this six-week basic training that Kosta learned how to march and handle various weaponry. He was classified as an MI Rifle Marksman, meaning that he was qualified to use certain weapons, and a Chemical NCO, meaning that he was responsible for nuclear, biological, and chemical aspects of warfare. Because of his background in bugling, Kosta was also assigned to be a bugler, or a “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy”. During basic training, buglers were responsible for playing different chords at different points of the day. For example, Kosta would play in order to signify the beginning of breakfast and lunch. During combat, buglers were assigned to race out into No Man’s Land, that strip of land between one’s comrades and the enemy, in order to provoke fire from the enemy. This assignment, which Kosta would have to perform twice, was the scariest of Kosta’s military career. Aside from his duties as a Marksman, a Chemical NCO, and a bugler, Kosta was also designated as a radio operator for the 47th Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. As radio operator, Kosta was responsible for communications between his unit and the headquarters.
Following a week-long leave, Kosta’s unit was sent to Normandy, France in June 1944. Their mission was to advance, thus taking back land from the Nazi army. They did not, however, move directly to the front lines. Kosta’s unit spent some time at the Infantry Replacement Training Center before being sent about ten miles behind the front lines. While they were not in direct danger from the enemy, they could still hear the bombings, shells, and planes. Being out of direct combat comforted the men, as they were still relatively safe. Kosta, a self proclaimed “sun worshipper”, remembered tanning every day.
After a month behind the front lines, Kosta was assigned to the B Company, which would be stationed at the front lines of combat. B Company, which specialized in machine gunning, was one of the safer companies. It was, however, still very dangerous. Because there was so much machine gun fire, Kosta and his colleagues were required to continually dig slit trenches. Slit trenches were shallow excavations that allowed a soldier to lie horizontally while protecting his body from machine gun tracers. Kosta remembered an officer claiming, “You’re gonna live to see the day when you wish you had a spoon to dig with.” While these trenches were mainly used as protection from fire during combat, they were also used as living space near the front lines.
Kosta’s Commanding Officer was a twenty-four year old German American. While Kosta couldn’t understand why a young German could hold such a high position in the US Army, he was incredibly grateful for him. Kosta explained, “That’s the reason why I’m alive today, because I was protecting his butt. I was at the radio. So he wanted me right by him. So he got the better choice of a place when we went to sleep or wherever.” Because Kosta was of extreme importance to the officer, he was often put in safer circumstances than other soldiers.
In the middle of July, 1944, Kosta’s unit was engaged in the Battle of Saint-Lo, which took place in Northern France. Although this battle was not very well-known, it was instrumental to the gradual breakdown of German resistance in Northern France. Because Kosta was assigned to the radio, he was not in the heart of combat. He explained, “You see very little from where you are. You’re out in the country or something in a hole. But I didn’t see the town or anything like that. So I have nothing to report. It was a big talk about Saint-Lo. It was a heavy-duty fire.”
Kosta’s unit then moved to the Battle of the Falaise Pocket. This battle was the last phase of the Battle of Normandy and was a decisive victory for the Allies. Although Kosta had no memory of the battle, it remains an important step to victory for the United States during WWII.
After the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, Kosta’s unit moved to Belgium, where they would engage in the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge, which took place in December 1944 through January 1945, was a decisive battle of WWII. Hitler had expected to break down Allied opposition on the Western Front, thus allowing him to focus his energy on the Eastern Front. He did not expect a major Allied victory, one that would turn the tide in WWII. Germany suffered mass casualties during the battle, as did the United States. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and costliest battle fought by Americans during WWII. When asked about his unit’s morale during the battle Kosta commented, “Morale has to be at an all time low when you’re in the infantry and there’s somebody trying to kill you.”
Kosta’s unit then moved into Germany, where they would continue on their mission to push back German forces. It was while in Germany that Kosta became seriously ill. After a medic determined that he had a fever, Kosta was sent by plane to London, England, where he would remain for a few weeks. Kosta was eventually diagnosed with Yellow Jaundice, a disease that causes the yellowing of the skin and eyes. Kosta explained, “My eyes were like a yellow crayon. I didn’t know it. It was solid like a canary bird.” Kosta described his time in England as “the biggest thrill of my life.” He claimed that he “was never so sick and so happy at the same time.”
After a few weeks in London, it was determined that Kosta was well enough to re-enter combat. He was sent to Germany, where he joined Company B in liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp in April 1945. Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp to be opened in WWII and was responsible for the deaths of over thirty-one thousand prisoners. While Kosta was aware of the nature of the concentration camp, he was not sent inside. He remained outside the main gates, where he communicated information via radio.
Kosta was awarded several medals for his time in the service. He received a Bronze Star, a United States Armed Forces military decoration awarded for bravery or acts of merit. He was also awarded the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and a Good Conduct Medal. In 2012, Kosta was named a Chevalier, or knight, in the National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French government. This honor was given to Kosta for his contributions to the liberation of France from German occupation during WWII.
Kosta was discharged from the Army in October 1945 at Camp Beale, Marysville, CA. He commented, “I felt good. It was wonderful to be able to go home. You’re thinking you might never go home. In many cases, people didn’t.” In the days following his discharge, Kosta was reunited with his wife and child and returned to his job at the brewery. Kosta would remain in the beer business for 37 years, working for several breweries including Acme, Burgermeister, and Rainier. He described is job at the brewery as “a job where you whistle on the way to work. It was nice.” When asked how his time in the military changed his outlook on life, Kosta responded, “I feel very happy every once in a while to think that I went through that. And still alive. Where other people that I saw were taken away.” Kosta eventually moved to San Rafael, where he resides today.
Interview by Valerie Cherbero on June 28, 2012.