Question re: Maj. John P. Stopka

Question re: Maj. John P. Stopka

Registered User
Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

07 Nov 2011, 15:29 #1

Received the below email inquiry off forum today:

It is about  Major (or Lt.Col?)  Stopka.

I am very interested in what happened to him.

After a long search I found on TT why he was awarded the DSC for his brave
actions in Normandy during the charge of LtCol Cole.

But please could you help me with information about his death at Bastogne?

I understand that he was killed by a bomb from a P 47 Thunderbolt.

Have you more details?

Is he buried at Luxembourg cemetery??

Do you have a picture of him?


Thank you very much..



Registered User
Joined: 07 Nov 2011, 17:11

07 Nov 2011, 17:11 #2

a quick google search
confirms He is buried at Luxembourg American Cemetery, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Plot: E, Row: 9, Grave: 38.
Sorry can't help with the other questions

Registered User
Joined: 26 Feb 2008, 18:30

07 Nov 2011, 18:08 #3

I will rewatch the interview I did with Joe Lofthouse. I believe he talks a little about Stopka's death.


Registered User
Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

07 Nov 2011, 20:27 #4

Stopka was the original XO of 3/502.  He succeeded RG Cole as Bn commander
after Cole's death in Holland. Stopka was killed on 14 Jan., 1945, west of Bourcy,
Belgium, by a misplaced 500 lb bomb dropped by a P47. Ivan Hershner, the C.O.
of Item Co. was sent to the responsible AAF fighter squadron in spring, 1945, to determine why
that fatal mistake happened.  The final finding was that the 3rd Bn of the Deuce had advanced
too far and too fast tht day and Stopka's group from 3/502 was in an area that was still
supposed to be occupied by German troops.  Also killed by the same bomb were
Ernesto Burciago and TW Norris and many more were wounded, but survived.

Stopka was preceived as somewhat distant and uncaring by the EM in 3/502, much like
the XO of 3/506 (Maj Grant).  One afternoon at Ft Bragg, Stopka's very beautiful
wife drove on-post in an open-topped convertible and the wolf whistles and catcalls got
out of hand.  Stopka assembled the battalion and warned them to never again disrespect his
wife in that fashion.  On D-day, Stopka commanded all the stray mis-dropped forces who
assembled at the Marmion farm below Ravenoville and it became known as 'The Stopka
and he became known as the 'Mad Major.' Maj. Stopka did participate in the
bayonet charge and you can read about him in 'Night Drop.'  One thing the book won't
tell you, is that he shot the commander of HQ Co 3/502 in the butt (grazing wound with a pistol)
for refusing to get out of the ditch and lead his troops on Bloody Sunday (11 June, 1944) above
Carentan.  Stopka was nearly killed that day, when a bullet nicked the rim of his helmet.
After Stokpa's death, he was followed by Cecil Simmons as 3/502 battalion commander.  Simmons
was the only commander of that Bn to survive WW2.  Stopka's widow received his effects back in Wyoming after
his death and she tossed everything in a car, drove away and was never heard from again by the Stopka
family.  I spoke with his niece about 10 years ago and she told me she was a employee of the Texas Ranger
Museum in Waco(?) and that she was the Stopka family historian and archivist.  She is deeply interested in
the history of her family in Poland, but sadly had no interest in what her uncle did in WW2.  Go figure.    
Last edited by KlondikeFox on 07 Nov 2011, 20:30, edited 1 time in total.

Jim Bigley
Registered User
Joined: 25 Feb 2008, 12:03

08 Nov 2011, 02:22 #5

Mark:  Back when we went to Holland & Bastogne in Sept 2004, didn't Pierre G. and his buddy take us to the bomb crater (near Bastogne) where they believed Stopka was killed?  It was in the same woods (near some railroad bed/tracks) that we interviewed Tony Lujan.
Regards, JimB

Registered User
Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

08 Nov 2011, 08:53 #6

Pierre Godeau did take us to the spot where the 500 lb bomb landed.
There is still an impressive crater there, but the locals have mostly filled it
with tree branches and other debris. There is a logging road which runs
parrallel to the former railroad line (the tracks were removed for salvage in 1995),
and the steel bridge which crossed the tracks a mile southwest of Bourcy was just
removed in the past couple of years.  See the photo of Capt Clements on page
209 of my book '101 Ab SE in WW2'.  That was taken facing SW on the logging
road, parallel to the tracks.  The access road to the RR bridge would have been
to the right of the man with the camera. 
The crater is just north of the former rr line and about 1/3 mile SW of the former
steel bridge.  On my last tour of the area, I attempted to take my group to
the spot but it is a lot more difficult to reach now.
Burciago, as the legend goes, died with a smile on his face.  He belonged to HQ Co. 3rd Bn
and played the position of catcher on the softball team.  He was the only man who could catch the
fast softball pitches thrown by Beverly Hollingsworth in Item Co. TW Norris who perished
in the bombing was also an Item Co. trooper and best buddy of Chester Elliott.
Medic Pat Callery of H Co. was standing right beside Stopka when he saw the bomb released and
coming toward them.  He shoved Stopka and tried to knock him down, before hitting the ground
himself, but Stopka  remained standing.  This made the difference between life and death.  Callery
survived uninjured and Stopka was badly torn apart.  He was reportedly wearing a leather A-2
jacket under an M43 jacket or overcoat at the time, and the name tag on the jacket reportedly helped identify
his remains. Some say the blast decapitated him, but this is not confirmed.
One of the local Belgian collectors showed us a US parachutist qualification badge (jump wings) he found with
a detector in or near the bomb crater, if I remember correctly.  Pierre should weigh-in on this.


Registered User
Joined: 27 Jun 2010, 10:05

08 Nov 2011, 09:16 #7

All deaths in the 101st in WWII and beyond were tragic but in the deaths of Cole and Stopka I believe the 3rd Battalion suffered the loss of two great Officers and combat leaders. The medals awarded to both speak volumes. Mark, I gather given what the troops thought of Stopka that his death had not quite as great an effect on them as Coles death?

Ignorance means life is lost.

Registered User
Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

08 Nov 2011, 09:41 #8

It is safe to say that no death in 3rd Bn of the Deuce was as momentous to the
troops as Cole's death. But I have a copy of the letter Stopka wrote to Allie Mae,
(Cole's widow), not long before he himself was KIA.  I think it gives an insight into
Stopka and reminds us of his humanity.  I believe he was misunderstood by most
of the enlisted personnel in 3rd Bn and probably found the job of command a lonely
place to be.  Cole was a relentless task master and it was only his very vocal sense of humor
and fearless example that endeared him to the troops.  Stopka was more taciturn and since the war
was not a popularity contest, he should be judged more for his outstanding record of leadership-
(starting at Marmion on D-day), rather than his ability to be well-liked by the troops. I guess
Stopka's example is proof that no matter how well you perform as a leader, your subordinates
will not acknowledge your greatness if you lack the human touch.  In this case, it was just a
matter of showing some concern for them, as individuals.
Back to Cole, Earl Kelly is fond of saying:
"I was more afraid of Cole than I was of the Germans!"
Still, in interviewing 3/502 survivors, I detected a lingering resentment toward Stopka as well as
toward Major Grant, (his counterpart in 3/506, also KIA). The soldiers seemed more hurt than
anything else.  That's it in a nutshell-resentment born out of the hurtful feeling that your commander doesn't care about you.
Stopka probably would've been hurt himself, to know that the troops just didn't think he cared about them.

Registered User
Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

08 Nov 2011, 09:51 #9

There is a story in Avenging Eagles about Burciago almost being killed on  a practice jump in
the states, in 1943.  He had a streamer and was falling to his death, when his canopy caught on the upper
branches of a tall, slender tree.  The tree bent sideways until Buciago's feet just touched the ground,
then sprang back to an upright position. At any rate, his life was spared by this miracle, but it was
only a temporary reprieve, because that bomb above Bastogne claimed him, along with Stopka.
There's another story in AEs, about a different Deuce trooper, whose canopy snagged on the tail of a C-47 on
a practice jump and he escaped death by deploying his reserve, which yanked him free of the plane...
he was killed soon thereafter, in a motorcycle accident,   

Registered User
Joined: 27 Jun 2010, 10:05

08 Nov 2011, 12:27 #10

In not a particularly religious man but when you hear stories like that of men surviving the most harrowing of incidents but then meeting their maker later on I cant help but think something somewhere was telling them where and when they were ready to go.

Thanks for the reply about Stopka, Mark, I have always been a keen admirer of Stopka as Marmion was one of the first place I really researched in regards to the 101st. Given that is has become known as the Stopka Strongpoint it did of course intruige me. You're right in saying it probably would have hurt Stopka to hear that his men didn't think he cared for them, perhaps Stopka was one to distance himself from his men because it hurt him so much to lose them. I cannot for a second imagine what it would be like to lose men under your control but I could to an extent understand why an Officer might purposefully distance himself from his men on a personal basis to limit the effects of their death.

Ignorance means life is lost.