EAST PROVIDENCE — At 95 years old, every day is gift to city resident Henry Stad, though each Memorial Day takes on a particular poignance for the World War II veteran.
Born the year World War I officially ended in 1919 — the 100-year anniversary of the start of the “War to end all Wars” is being recognized throughout Europe in 2014 — Mr. Stad was raised in Pawtucket and moved to East Providence in the early 1960s. Here, he and his wife of 57 years, Maria, raised three children while Henry worked as an accountant. The Stads are grandparents of five.
Each Memorial Day holds special meaning for Mr. Stad, but 2014 is especially memorable for a few reasons. It’s the 70th anniversary of “D-Day,” when Allied Forces struck the beaches at Normandy, France. This year, more importantly to Mr. Stad, is also the 70th anniversary of his beloved brother Frank’s death during the “Battle of the Bulge.”
“Memorial Day is about remembering those who are deceased or were killed in action,” said Mr. Stad, who’s body has betrayed him in recent years, though his mind is sharper than most half his age.
He continued: “Veterans Day is about veterans, but Memorial Day is about those who served and lost their lives, like my brother. To me this day is about sadness about losing Frank. He was so young.”
The story of U.S. Army Air Forces Lieutenant Frank Stad’s passing is heart-breaking and heroic, like so many of those who died in World War II.
Just 22 at the time and a lead bombardier of the 441st Bomber Squadron, 320th Bomber Group, Medium who had 23 missions under his belt, Frank was two flights away from reaching the 25 necessary to earn some much-deserved “R&R” (Rest-and-Recreation). It was December of 1944. The “Battle of the Bulge” had just begun. And though it wasn’t unlikely he could be home for Christmas, Frank was looking forward to returning to Rhode Island around the holiday season.
With that in mind, one fateful day, December 23, he was ordered to fill in for a sick member of another flight crew. He and they, the seven airmen total, would never make it back to base. Flying at low altitude upon approaching their target, Frank Stad and the crew were killed in the skies over France when German anti-aircraft rounds came through the open bay doors of their plane, struck the bombs inside and instantly blew it to pieces.
“He was ruled missing in action, but we knew he wasn’t alive,” Mr. Stad explained. “They said they found parts of the plane and the guys who were in it, but they couldn’t identify any of them. They put what they had left of each of them in little boxes. That’s why we never brought him back. He’s buried over in (St. Avold, Moselle) France, but that’s not him.”
What Frank Stad would have become, no one knows. Henry and his family members knew who he was, however. He had graduated Providence College and planned to attend Columbia University to pursue his masters degree before he served and died for his country.
“He was a small, little red-headed guy,” Mr. Stad added of Frank. “He was the smartest kid in the family.”
And that’s saying something, because the Stad brood was a pretty impressive and enduring bunch. His sister Josephine graduated with a degree in pharmacology from Rhode Island College and became the first female pharmacist in the state. She passed away at 86. Another sister, Stella, lived to be 100 and his other brother Walter, like Henry and Frank a member of the Army Air Forces in WWII, died at age 98.
As for Henry Stad, he had quite the experience in WWII. He was drafted into the Army in the spring of 1941 some six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war. He served in the infantry before being assigned to the Army Air Forces, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force. He would be among the first American airmen to go to England in support of British paratroopers and was eventually sent to North Africa in late 1943.
By the spring of 1944, however, the 125-degree desert heat sent him into a physical tailspin. Unbeknown to the doctors in the field, he was overcome by malaria and yellow jaundice among other ailments, which left him near death until a British general and doctor, who had previously been head of the tropical diseases department at London University Hospital, gave the proper diagnosis.
“I didn’t know any of this, of course, but I was told I was in a coma for weeks. They had sent word back to my captain telling him I wasn’t going to make it,” Mr. Stad said.
He survived, but was in a very weakened state. He took infinite doses of quinine, lost tens of pounds and basically had to relearn how to use his legs while recuperating in a hospital in Louisiana where he spent the remainder of his time in the service. He was discharged from there, missing “D-Day” and the latter stages of the war.
Mr. Stad, a 1940 graduate of then Bryant College, eventually settled into a life as an accountant and father, making the Rumford section of East Providence his home. He spent the better part of three decades working with the AARP assisting senior citizens with their taxes.
In recent years he helped organize trips for World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to view the monument erected there in dedication of their service. Mr. Stad made his trek to D.C. in 2010. And much like what happened this past Monday, the monument’s reference to Frank’s bomber group brought up those lasting, longing memories of his dearly departed brother.
“When I went to Washington, D.C. to the monument and I saw his activity, it made me remember all about him,” Mr. Stad added as he spoke this Memorial Day afternoon, a small lump of emotion creeping into his voice. “Even today, I’m thinking about him. You would think after all this time has past, after 70 years, I wouldn’t, but every Memorial Day I think about him. He was a great kid. I’ve missed him.”