Private John J. Skrzec (1920–1944)

Private John J. Skrzec (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
HometownCivilian Occupation
Wilmington, DelawareShipfitter’s helper at Pusey & Jones Corporation
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32484880
EuropeanCompany “A,” 33rd Signal Construction Battalion
Military Occupational SpecialtyCampaigns/Battles
238 (lineman, telephone and telegraph)Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland campaigns

Early Life & Family

John Joseph Skrzec was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on August 29, 1920. He was the son of Feliks Skrzec (also known as Felix or Felixs, 1885–1961) and Stanislawa “Stella” Skrzec (née Kulesza, 1887–1965). His parents were Polish, born in what was then the Russian Empire. They immigrated to the United States in 1905 and married in Wilmington. Skrzec’s father was recorded in various records through the years as working in many different occupations including laborer, worker in the Pennsylvania Railroad shops, confectioner, grocery store employee, stevedore at the marine terminal, taproom worker or bartender, laundry man at a hospital, shipyard worker at Pusey & Jones.

Skrzec had five older sisters (one of whom died young, prior to his birth) and an older brother. His parents had purchased a home at 731 Maryland Avenue in Wilmington on November 29, 1916. Skrzec was recorded there on the census on April 8, 1930, living with his parents, four surviving older sisters, brother-in-law, and nephew.

Census records and his enlistment data card both stated that Skrzec completed three years of high school. Journal-Every Evening described Skrzec as a “well-known athlete who played football and basketball at Wilmington High School and also was an end on the Defiance Club football team[.]” In a January 19, 1940, column printed in Journal-Every Evening, Dick Rinard facetiously wrote that Skrzec was more serious about sports than academics: “Johnny Skrzec, that budding Phi Beta Kappa of the [Wilmington High School] Red Devils, has run afoul [of] the textbooks and is ineligible for tonight’s tussle.”

By the time of the 1940 census, Skrzec had moved to 28 6th Avenue in Wilmington, where he was living with his parents and nephew. He was unemployed at the time. When he registered for the draft on February 16, 1942, Skrzec was living at that same address and working for the National Vulcanized Fibre Company factory at the corner of Maryland Avenue and Beech Street. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 175 lbs., with brown hair and hazel eyes. He was Catholic.

Wilmington Morning News reported on February 12, 1942, that Johnny Skrzec led the National Vulcanized Fibre basketball team to its first victory after four consecutive losses in the Industrial Basketball League, which was composed of employees from eight area businesses. Later that year, on September 17, 1942, he began working as a shipfitter’s helper in the Pusey & Jones Corporation shipyard in Wilmington. Skrzec’s father also worked there during the war.

Military Training

Although he was working in a war industry, Skrzec was drafted during the fall of 1942. He was inducted into the U.S. Army at Camden, New Jersey, on December 18, 1942. His family’s statement for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission suggests that he went on active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on December 26, 1942.

Effective January 2, 1943, Private Skrzec was assigned to Company “A,” 33rd Signal Construction Battalion, then located at Camp McCain, Mississippi. The 33rd had been activated at Camp McCain on December 14, 1942. Its cadre had been employed by the Bell Telephone Company in Pennsylvania prior to entering the service. Interestingly, many of the enlisted men, including Private Skrzec, joined the unit directly from reception centers like Fort Dix without first attending basic training. In addition to their training, the men had to perform general construction duties in camp. Skrzec served as a telephone and telegraph lineman.

On April 15, 1943, the battalion arrived at Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, where it passed its Mobilization Training Period (M.T.P.) test. According to the unit history, the 33rd went to the Louisiana Maneuver Area on May 3, 1943, “where it remained for about ten weeks, engaged in building open wire lines and laying field wire.  The training received here was invaluable and should be a prerequisite for all units.”

On July 10, 1943, the battalion returned to Camp Van Dorn. Skrzec was promoted to private 1st class on September 6, 1943. One week later, on September 13, Company “A” departed for Dayton, Texas, moving to Fort Sam Houston the following day. On October 26, 1943, the company left Fort Sam Houston, stopping briefly at Waxahachie, Texas, and McAlester, Oklahoma, before arriving at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, on October 28, 1943. There, the company “rerouted and rebuilt the rifle range open wire lines.”

Program for Skrzec’s company’s Thanksgiving celebration, apparently printed before his promotion to technician 5th grade on the November 24, 1943. Click here to view the entire document. (Courtesy of Chad Phillips)

The day before Thanksgiving, November 24, 1943, Skrzec was promoted to technician 5th grade. On November 27, Company “A” left to rejoin the rest of the battalion at the Louisiana Maneuver Area, with an overnight stop at Doddridge, Arkansas. On December 4, 1943, the entire battalion returned to Camp Van Dorn.

Overseas Service

The 33rd Signal Construction Battalion left Camp Van Dorn on January 30, 1944, arriving at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, on February 1. On February 9, 1944, the battalion shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation aboard the British transport Andes, arriving at Liverpool, England, on February 19. That same day, the battalion continued to Wrexham, Wales, where it conducted additional training in both signal work and combat. On June 26, 1944, Company “A” moved to Whiteparish, England, rejoining the rest of the battalion at Southampton on July 5. The company arrived at Utah Beach on July 8, 1944, just over a month after D-Day in Normandy.

Men of the 33rd Signal Construction Battalion at Guildhall Square, Wrexham, Wales, in April 1944 (Collection of Carl T. Liedtka, Jr., courtesy of Chad Phillips)

In Normandy, the 33rd Signal Construction Battalion was assigned to the U.S. Third Army. According to the unit history:

This Battalion installed the trunking between the Army Command Post and the Rear Echelon and ran local lines within both areas. This was not normally our duty, but at the time the 33d was the only Signal unit with the equipment and material to do the job.

          Four crews were detached to Army Headquarters to set up and operate construction centers (wireheads). […]

          Some Third Army units were already in France, and our crews provided communications to other units each day as they arrived. […]

          It was soon determined that for efficient operation a central control point was necessary in order to coordinate the various jobs and dispatch crews. Therefore each construction company established a wire operations center for this purpose.

A 33rd Signal Construction Battalion lineman in action (“Unit History 33d Signal Construction Battalion,” National Archives)
“Policing field wire lines” (“Unit History 33d Signal Construction Battalion,” National Archives)

The 33rd began rehabilitating an existing German naval communications line from Cherbourg, but ended up hanging wire on the existing poles. The battalion advanced new wire through the hedgerows as the Allied armies moved forward. Following Operation Cobra, the Third Army participated in the breakout from Normandy. The battalion history stated:

          At the time of the August 1 breakthrough our efforts to extend the open wire lead south as rapidly as possible were redoubled.  However, there was a bottleneck at Lessay.  The enemy had been in a fixed position there for some time, and had covered the countryside with mines.  One crew was detailed to detect and clear mines along the right-of-way ahead of the construction crews.  Thirty-eight mines were removed from the pole line right-of-way in a single afternoon.

33rd Signal Construction Battalion personnel paying out wire onto newly errected poles (“Unit History 33d Signal Construction Battalion,” National Archives)

The battalion history referenced the consequences of the German counteroffensive at Mortain during the second week of August 1944:

          Company A completed the open wire lead to Coutances and joined the rest of the Battalion at the St. James area.  At this time the enemy was endeavoring to push through Avranches to the sea and thereby cut off the advance elements of Third Army.  Constant altertness was necessary on the job in the bivouac.  Enemy aircraft attacked this area dropping anti-personnel bombs.

          Spiral-four cable and field wire became scarce [so] that in spite of the desperate need for construction crews, it was necessary to send a section of one platoon back to St. Jacques to recover wire.

As German forces in France crumbled before the Allied onslaught, it became challenging for the Signal Corps units to lay wire fast enough to keep up with the advance, especially given the supply shortages. The 33rd improvised by beginning to rehabilitate civilian underground and railroad cables for military purposes, as well as captured German lines. They completed work on lines from Châlons-sur-Marne to Reims to Valmy to Verdun to Gravelotte.

As the German defenses stabilized closer to their border and Allied supply lines became critically long, the Allied advance ground to a halt. Company “A” settled in at Mars-la-Tour, France, on September 8, 1944, but continued working in the area. Wet weather set in, which especially affected the aboveground civilian wires along the railroads, which “was in general poorly insulated[.]” Enemy artillery also damaged some lines.

Private Skrzec was most likely a member of 2nd Platoon of Company “A,” which moved to Jœuf, France, on October 18, 1944. Skrzec was reduced to the grade of private effective November 3, 1944.

Map showing signal lines from Fléville to Thionville (Courtesy of Chad Phillips)

The company history stated: “On November 8, Battalion Headquarters and part of Company A moved to Tucquegnieux, northwest of Briey. From here work was continued on the [Fléville]-Thionville open wire lead.”

On November 19, 1944, Private Skrzec was electrocuted in the line of duty while working near Beuvange sous Saint-Michel, just west of Thionville, France. Although transported to the 106st Evacuation Hospital in Aumetz, doctors were unable to save his life.

Chad Phillips, whose grandfather served with Private Skrzec, provided further insight into the circumstances of the tragedy. Phillips has spent many years researching the 33rd Signal Construction Battalion and interviewed many of its surviving members. In May 2004, he interviewed Clifford Leslie Hoffman (1922–2014), who was serving in 2nd Platoon of Company “A” at the time of Skrzec’s death. Phillips recalls Hoffman’s explanation:

John was in in the process of pulling copper communication wire over the cross arms on a pole line. The line started to bind so John wrapped the copper wire around his body and began to put more of his body weight into the pull. Whatever was causing the binding of the wire let go and the wire sprung up and made contact with a live electrical wire. Since he had wrapped the wire around him, there was no way to get it off and unfortunately he was electrocuted.

33rd Signal Construction Battalion personnel working near Briey, France, on November 14, 1944, just five days prior to Skrzec’s death (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo by Private 1st Class B. A. Newhouse, National Archives courtesy of Chad Phillips)

Skrzec was initially buried at a U.S. military cemetery in Limey, France, on November 22, 1944. His parents had learned of their son’s death by December 13, 1944, when the tragedy was reported in Journal-Every Evening.

Skrzec’s older brother, Stanley A. Skrzec (1909–1982), was inducted into the U.S. Army the following year, but survived the war.

After the war, in 1947, Private Skrzec’s father requested that his son’s body be repatriated to the United States. His body returned from Antwerp, Belgium, to the New York Port of Embarkation aboard the Lawrence Victory. Following services at 304 North Broom Street in Wilmington and a requiem mass at Saint Hedwig’s Roman Catholic Church on September 11, 1948, Private Skrzec was buried at Cathedral Cemetery.


Last Name

Skrzec was apparently shortened from Skrzeczkowski.

Location of Electrocution

American military records frequently mangled French place names. A morning report and a newspaper article stated that Skrzec was electrocuted at “Bewange, France” rather than Beuvange. This was most likely a mistake due to the typeface used in the map, in which the uv looks very much like a w.

There are actually two towns named Beuvange located very close to one another: Beuvange sous Saint-Michel and Beuvange sous Justemont. Chad Phillips determined that the former is surely where Skrzec was electrocuted, since it is along the route between Fléville and Thionville.


Special thanks to Chad Phillips for contributing photos, documents, and information that were valuable in telling Private Skrzec’s story, and for unraveling the mystery of where he was working on November 19, 1944. Thanks also go out to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo.


Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Crane, William B., Jr. “Special Orders Number 2.” Headquarters 33rd Signal Construction Battalion, January 3, 1943. Courtesy of Chad Phillips.

“Death Notices.” Journal-Every Evening, September 9, 1948.

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

“Electric Shock Fatal to Athlete In Third Army.” Journal-Every Evening, December 13, 1944.

Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Haley, J. J. Letter to Leon deValinger, Jr, February 9, 1945. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

John J. Skrzec Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

John J. Skrzec Individual Military Service Record, c. 1945. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

Morning reports for Company “A,” 33rd Signal Construction Battalion. January 1943 – November 1944. U.S. Army Morning Reports, c. 1912–1946. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. Courtesy of Chad Phillips.

“National Fibre Trips Hercules.” Wilmington Morning News, February 12, 1942.

Naturalization Petitions of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts For the District of Delaware, 1795-1930.  Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Phillips, Chad. Correspondence on April 9, 2023, and April 16, 2023.

“Pvt. John J. Skrzec.” Find a Grave.

“Pvt. John J. Skrzec Funeral to Be Held.” Journal-Every Evening, September 9, 1948.

Rinard, Dick. “Calling The Turn.” Journal-Every Evening, January 19, 1940.

Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

“Table of Organization and Equipment No. 11-27: Signal Light Construction Company.” War Department, December 10, 1943. Courtesy of Military Research Service.

“Unit History 33d Signal Construction Battalion.” World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri.

Last updated on April 27, 2023

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