by Nora Edinger
CLARKSBURG -- Maybe it was the fact they were young and far from home. Maybe it was the flying bullets.
But when young men from Clarksburg, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma and all over the U.S. met during World War II, they formed a real-life band of brothers. They were the U.S. Army's 664th Medical Clearing Company.
"When you go over and you don't know if you're going to come back, you get pretty close to one another," said Ed Rosewitz of Tulsa, Okla. "You get more like family."
Rosewitz -- like the late John Stalensky and the late John Nery of Clarksburg -- was one of 104 young men who formed the 664th, part of Gen. George Patton's Third Army.
Surprisingly, they all came back.
"I guess the Old Boy upstairs was looking out after us," said Rosewitz.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, many of these war buddies -- and their families -- are still together nearly 60 years later.
As a medical company, the 664th followed the front lines of battle all over Europe.
They were there at Normandy, landing on Utah beach. They wound their way through Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium until the war ended in 1945.
"Big John" Stalensky, a tall fellow from Clarksburg, was in his late 20s then. He was a medic, as was Rosewitz.
Robert Bloomhuff of Cincinnati was a chaplain's assistant.
Despite the consistency of their mission, every day was different.
One day, Stalensky pulled a Parisian tablecloth from a bombed-out building and sent it to the woman who would later become his wife. He bought Chanel perfume for her in the same city.
Another day, Bloomhuff zig-zagged like mad down a road, trying to get away from a German pilot who had refurbished a downed American plane.
"We heard a droning sound and knew it was a fighter plane. He started strafing on both sides of the vehicle."
Then there were the days the men hiked up into the Alps to make ice cream on a summer day, danced with the local girls or shot photographs for a borderline-irreverent company newspaper called the Snarkyville Gazette.
They couldn't stop thinking each day might be their last, and it drew them deeper into friendship.
"War means death to a lot of people ... you have to kill somebody or somebody kills you," Rosewitz said.
"You always know you can be talking to someone and five seconds later you turn to them and they're gone."
"We were just like a bunch of quail when we got back," Rosewitz said. "We went all different ways because we were from so many different states."
A couple things held them together, however.
Clifford "Rocky" Rockwell, a staff sergeant from New York, began issuing an annual newsletter for company veterans as soon as they returned.
The group began meeting for frequent reunions beginning in about 1949, as well, Rosewitz said. Rockwell's photo album of such events shows the group adding wives, children and gray hair throughout the years.
The most recent was in 1996 and Bloomhuff said it will likely be the last because of the age of the men.
Less formally, the Stalensky home has served as a hub for smaller meetings for decades.
Margaret, Stalensky's widow, said she heard little about the company friendships until after their marriage.
"He was always talking about his friends over there," she said from her North View neighborhood home.
She soon started meeting them, as well.
Rockwell and his wife, Rosie, would come one weekend and maybe another veteran and his family the next.
"One time when they (Rockwells) came from New York, John Nery brought a big paper that said 'Stalensky Hotel' to put outside."
With Stalensky's death in October and Rockwell's passing about two years ago, the wives and children who tagged along to so many meetings have entered the band of brothers in their own right.
Rockwell's daughter, Terri Austin of Corning, N.Y., continues the Christmas newsletter in particular.
They've also become a close network themselves.
When Stalensky died, daughter Judy Reider of Clarksburg said Austin was one of the first people she called. It was the same for Austin.
"I've read and re-read their (Stalensky) letters during the tougher times of grief," Austin said.
Reflecting on their fathers' lives and their long-lasting friendships with their Army buddies, both Austin and Reider said they couldn't help wanting to remain a part of it.
"It just meant a lot to me that they kept in contact all these years," Reider said. "People don't do that today."
Austin said she intends to continue the newsletter indefinitely, even though the original veterans are declining in number. She sees it as fulfilling Rockwell's desire to share his Christian faith and something more with the men with whom he served so long ago.
"He wanted to ... spend eternity with these precious guys."
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.