Private Walter J. Dobek (1922–1944)

Walter J. Dobek (Courtesy of the Wyszynski family)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareWorker for Bond Bottling Corporation
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32485323
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “C,” 146th Engineer Combat Battalion
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartNormandy

Early Life & Family

Walter John Dobek was born at 401 Porter Street in Wilmington, Delaware on the morning of September 28, 1922.  (His birth certificate recorded his name as Waslaw Dobek, but all other known records are under the name Walter.)  He was the ninth child of Peter Dobek (1881–1944) and Mary Dobek (1893–1926).  Both parents were Polish, though Poland was not an independent country at the time they were born.  According to the 1920 census, Peter was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States in 1901, while Mary had been born in Galicia (then part of Austria-Hungary) and arrived in the U.S. in 1902.  The couple had settled in Delaware by 1911, when their first child was born.  By January 1920, the family was living at 745 Maryland Avenue in Wilmington, Delaware.  Peter was working as a laborer in a shipyard.

Walter had four older sisters; four other older siblings died before he was born.  Walter was only three years old when his mother died on May 6, 1926.  According to a July 7, 1944 article in Journal-Every Evening, Dobek “attended St. Hedwig’s Parochial School”.

When he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, Dobek was living with his sister Ann Zoladkiewicz at 700 Spruce Street in Wilmington and working for the Bond Bottling Corporation.  He was described as standing five feet, 8½ inches tall and weighing 145 lbs., with brown hair and gray eyes.


Walter Dobek (left) with an unidentified soldier, probably taken stateside (Courtesy of the Wyszynski family)

Military Training

According to the State of Delaware Individual Military Service Record filled out by his sister Ann in 1944, Private Dobek went on active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey on December 29, 1942.  She stated that he was stationed at Camp Carson, Colorado from January 10, 1943 through May 30, 1943 and then moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was stationed between June 1, 1943 and September 1, 1943.  After that, he was stationed at Camp Swift, Texas between September 2, 1943 and September 26, 1943.

Most likely, that was the same month that Dobek joined Company “C,” 146th Engineer Combat Battalion.  The battalion (previously 1st Battalion, 146th Engineer Regiment prior to reorganization) had been activated at Camp Swift on April 1, 1943.  Later that year, the unit moved to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts.  The battalion staged there beginning on September 28, 1943.  The following month, the unit shipped out from the Boston Port of Embarkation aboard the R.M.S. Mauretania.  Private Dobek was just one among hundreds of thousands of soldiers arriving in England in preparation for the invasion of France the following year, Operation Overlord.

From November 1943 through April 1944, the battalion was stationed at the U.S. Assault Training Center in Devon, England.  The unit built the simulated fortifications used to train the soldiers scheduled to land on the beaches of Normandy.


D-Day in Normandy

Wesley R. Ross—a 146th Engineer Combat Battalion officer—wrote in his memoir Essayons: Journey with the Combat Engineers in WWII that the battalion was a relatively late addition to the list of units earmarked to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day in Normandy.  Ross stated that Major General Leonard T. Gerow, commanding officer of V Corps

became concerned that 290 men in 21 Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs)–who had been programmed for the beach obstacle demolition mission–were too few for the task. […] The revised plans called for demolitioneers from the 146th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions to form twenty-four, 28-man Gap Assault Teams (sixteen Primary and eight Support GATs) to which the NCDUs would now be attached. This combined force was to blow sixteen fifty-yard-gaps through the wood and steel obstacles, located below the high tide line.

Soon after its departure from the Assault Training Center, the men of the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion found themselves back there, this time as trainees.  Ross recalled that:

Our Primary GATs were to clear eight 50 yard paths through the obstacles for the Battalion Landing Teams of the 116th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division and our four support GATs were to be directed to their landing sites by the radio in Lt Colonel Isley’s command boat.

Private Walter J. Dobek (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

The engineers began landing on Omaha Beach within minutes of H-Hour.  Many of them fell victim to the fusillade of German machine gun, rifle, and artillery fire that also devastated the first wave of infantry.  Unlike other soldiers on the beach, their mission meant they could not push forward to find cover.  Complicating matters was the fact that other soldiers sought shelter behind the obstacles that the engineers were affixing explosives to.

In his book Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

The casualties among the demolition teams within the first thirty minutes of the invasion were so great that no historical account of their work can ever be complete. However, survivors’ narratives and unit reports agree that the combined army-navy teams managed to fulfill at least a small portion of their overall beach clearance mission. Of the sixteen fifty-yard breaches the mission called for, the demolitionists probably finished six and partially completed several more before the tide rose to a level at which work was impossible. […] Most of the gaps that were blown through the German obstacles on D-Day morning were on the eastern half of the beach, generally in the Easy Red sector between the St. Laurent and Colleville exits. Omaha’s western side, the 116th Infantry’s sector, probably had only two breaches, neither of which was anywhere near the western-most draw at Vierville—a failure that would later prevent landing craft from coming ashore in this sector.

According to the report “History of 146th Engineer Combat Battalion, 1 June 1944 to 30 June 1944,” the unit suffered D-Day casualties of 14 killed, 68 wounded, and 20 missing.  According to the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion plaque at Colleville-sur-Mer, 35 men from the unit died on June 6, 1944.  Private Dobek, one of missing, was subsequently identified among the dead.

The July 7, 1944 article in Journal-Every Evening stated:

A War Department telegram announcing that Private Walter J. Dobek, 21, has been missing in action in France since D-Day, was sent to his father, Peter Dobek.  But it never reached that destination for the father had died on Tuesday.

The 146th Engineer Combat Battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for the unit’s collective actions on June 6, 1944.  Private Dobek was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Private Dobek was buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery St. Laurent, now known as the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

2008 photo of Walter Dobek’s grave at the Normandy American Cemetery draped with the flag presented to his family after his funeral (Courtesy of the Wyszynski family)

Notes

Mother’s Maiden Name

The Individual Military Service Record stated that Mary Dobek’s maiden name was Smusna, while a death certificate for one of her sons, John, was similar: Smozna.  However, Mary’s death certificate listed her parents as John and Victoria Bigos.  Indeed, the 1910 census records John, Victoria, and Mary Bigos living in Wilmington.

Service History

Private Dobek is among approximately 13% of enlisted service members whose enlistment data cards could not be successfully digitized, so it is not possible to verify the dates and locations provided by his sister Ann.  I’ve found that family-supplied information in the Individual Military Service Records are generally accurate but frequently do contain some errors or omissions.  In other cases, Delawareans who were drafted around the same time were first inducted in Camden, New Jersey before going on active duty at Fort Dix shortly thereafter. 

Ann also wrote that Dobek shipped out to England from somewhere in the “New England States” in November 1943.  His unit did ship out from the Boston Port of Embarkation, but in October 1943.  (Interestingly, the July 7, 1944 article in Journal-Every Evening erroneously stated that “he had been overseas since September, 1943.”)


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to John D. Antkowiak for supplying information about the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion, and to the Wyszynski family and Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos of Private Dobek.


Bibliography

Balkoski, Joseph. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books, 2004.

“D-Day Message Arrives Too Late.”  Journal-Every Evening, July 7, 1944.  Pg. 1.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/70449528/walter-dobek-mia/

Delaware Vital Records, 1800-1933.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1674/images/31297_212510-00670, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1674/images/31297_212519-00152

“Fifth Engineer Special Brigade Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer.”  Normandy War Guide.  https://www.normandywarguide.com/place/fifth-engineer-special-brigade-memorial-colleville-sur-mer

Headstone Inscription and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942–1949.  Record Group 117, Records of the American Battle Monuments Commission, 1918–ca. 1995.  The National Archives at Washington, D.C.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_1521003239_0888-01382   

“History of 146th Engineer Combat Battalion, 1 June 1944 to 30 June 1944.” Originally posted on 146thecbwwii.org website in 2005 by Leonard Fox, copies provided courtesy of John D. Antkowiak.

“Narrative History 1 April 1943 to 1 June 1944.” Headquarters, 146th Engineer Combat Battalion. From the papers of Steven Pipka, courtesy of John D. Antkowiak.

“Narrative History 1 June 1944 to 30 June 1944.” Headquarters, 146th Engineer Combat Battalion. July 1, 1944. From the papers of Steven Pipka, courtesy of John D. Antkowiak.

“Pvt Walter John Dobek.”  Find a Grave.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56643987/walter-john-dobek

Ross, Wesley R.  Essayons: Journey with the Combat Engineers in WWII.  Self-published book, date of publication unknown.  http://www.6thcorpscombatengineers.com/docs/Engineers/Wes%20Ross%20-%20146th%20ECB.pdf

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946.  Revised ed.  Stackpole Books, 2006.

“Three from City War Casualties.”  Wilmington Morning News, September 8, 1944.  Pg. 19.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/70446482/walter-dobek-kia/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/31111_4327433-01373

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.    https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295770-00960

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947.  Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System.  The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_09_00003-00802

Zoladkiewicz, Ann.  Walter John Dobek Individual Military Service Record, December 4, 1944.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.  https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18469


Last updated on May 24, 2021

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