In March of 1943, a group of 13 Deep River “Boys” left together and formed a Combat Engineers Unit which kept them together throughout the war.
Stanley Stopa enlisted at the age of 19 years in the U.S. Army. Stan left by bus from East Hampton, CT with 13 other “boys” from Deep River and entered active service in the Army on March 8, 1943, in Hartford, CT. The Deep River “boys” were Ernie Calamari, George Ressler, Bill Ackerman, Waldon Hartson, Charlie Euston, George Watrous, Harvey Brooks, Doug Carlson, Ray Swain, and Victor Carlson. They were sent to Fort Devens, then assigned to the 296th Combat Engineer Battalion, and shipped to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for basic training over a period of seven months. Heat, insects, and mud were constant companions during basic training.
Maneuvers in England completed all the training the young men would get. They learned how to dismantle and remove land mines, repair and build bridges and construct camps for their comrades in other units. The 296th landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy 20 days after D-Day. Stan said their first job was repairing the main supply route from Utah Beach. Next, they removed minefields, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Prisoner of war enclosures of barbed wire were also constructed. Stan found a glider made in Deep River and removed the ID plate from a glider made by Pratt Read & Co.
One of the most difficult experiences was the cold that winter says, Stanley. “I remember walking in snow up to my crotch in Belgium. But the highlight for every guy in the outfit was building the largest bridge in the European Theater
While stationed in Eupen, the Battle of the Bulge began, on December 17th. All traffic was moving North to Battice. That’s when Stan saw a truck from his brother Frank’s outfit, 639 A.A.A. Stan found out Frank was located in Liege, about 15 miles West. His C.O. gave him permission to go see him. Bill Nolan from Portland knew his way around and brought Stan to his brother. His crew shot down a ME 109 just before we got there. The unit-built bridges in Trois Fonts by B Company and C Company. Temperatures were minus 20 degrees.
The 296th crossed the Rhine River south of Bonn. That’s where Stan picked up a large German Flag. The 296th built a 180-foot bridge across the Ilm River. This was a Pile Bent Bridge with 3-story trestle bents on the piles, 55 feet high. This bridge remained in use until 1955. It was the highest bridge constructed by the first army Engineer Combat Battalion in the E.T.O. It was completed on V.E. Day May 8, 1945. From then on it was the road to Berlin. The Battalion was the first American Unit to arrive in Berlin on July 3, 1945. Their job was to prepare housing for the advancing units. It wasn’t all work as they had opportunities to play ball and see shows by Bob Hope and company. They left Berlin in the fall for Le Harve, France to come home. The unit was discharged on December 19, 1945, from Fort Devens, MA. the goal was to be home by Christmas! In all the 296th Engineers took part in five campaigns, Normandy, Northern Europe, Central Europe, and Ardennes. They traveled from Liverpool to Berlin, a total of 1800 miles in 623 days. Their mission was accomplished. The 296th Combat Battalion held reunions every 2 years in Mass, Rhode Island, and CT.