The Saratoga Sun -

Medals and mystery

Decorated soldier and grandson of Valley settlers, Dick Wiant recalls D-Day, Battle of the Bulge. Shows medals and trade trophy-only to reveal mystery

 

Joshua Wood

Wiant recently displayed the jacket he wore in WWII.

It was not uncommon, following the end of World War II, for the young men, and women, to return home and go back to work, rarely talking about what they had experienced. A generation that went from a robust economy to the Great Depression-The Greatest Generation, a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw-set their minds and hands to working for the country they had fought so hard for in Europe and the Pacific Theater.

Private First Class Richard "Dick" Wiant was and is a member of that generation. A native son of the Valley, Dick Wiant was grandson to Isaac Wiant, who settled in the area in 1895. Dick was one of six of Isaac's grandsons to fight in WWII.

Wiant, a member of the 112th Engineers Combat Battalion, was in the second wave to arrive on Omaha Beach attached to the 116th Infantry Combat Team during the Invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day, and was in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.

"I was working at Sinclair Refinery when Uncle Sam said 'Here, I need you,'" said Wiant.

At 95 years old, Wiant is still sharp of mind and remembers the day of June 6, 1944, though he still won't talk much about it. Wiant was 20 when he set foot on Omaha Beach and, even though he had been trained to use a firearm if necessary, he never saw the front lines. While the United States was able to land approximately 34,000 troops on Omaha Beach, it is estimated that 2,400 American soldiers died during the battle.

"There's so many good friends that didn't make it," Wiant said.

Following the Normandy Campaign, for which Wiant was awarded the Arrowhead and the Silver Star, he was also involved in the Northern France Campaign which led to his time in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.

"That was like my second home, they treated you like part of the family," said Wiant. "Twice during the Battle of the Bulge I escorted a girl I had a crush on."

As Wiant tells it, he and several other soldiers stayed in the third floor of a house in Belgium.

"There was a knocking on the door. 'Dick, Dick.'"

Wiant, who professes to be a light sleeper, answered the door to find his crush pleading for help in getting a doctor for a pregnant neighbor about to have her baby.

"I told her 'Let me get my clothes on, I'll be out.' She lead the way through the dark," Wiant said. "To me, it was all black."

That trip was approximately six or seven blocks for the pair who were successful in getting the doctor and informing him of the soon-to-arrive baby.

Another experience Wiant had while in Belgium was providing electricity to the house where he quartered by turning the engine of a cement mixer into a generator. While the stringing of the lights and the wiring was easily done, it was the starting of the generator that proved to be difficult.

While the soldiers put gas, or petrol, in the engine, it refused to run. Wiant and the others deduced that the engine ran on diesel, not gas, and emptied the fuel tank before replacing it with diesel. According to Wiant, he did the same thing for another house that quartered American troops.

During his time in the military, Wiant was awarded multiple medals including Army Good Conduct, the soldies medal the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. Along with those medals, Wiant was also awarded an Arrowhead for the Normandy landing and two stars; one for the Normandy Campaign and one for the Northern France Campaign.

Following his return to the Valley, Wiant hung his jacket up in the attic of the Wiant family house where it stayed. Recently the jacket was discovered by Wiant's cousin, Frances Kirby. The discovery of the jacket, along with a German Luger from World War I, led to a mystery for the Sun, Kirby and Wiant's nephew, Kim Viner, a retired U.S. Navy Commander.

On Wiant's jacket, every medal is accounted for save for one. The medal, which is black in the center and has white, red and blue on the edges, is from World War I and is an Army Occupation of Germany medal. Created in 1941 and awarded retroactively, the medal was awarded to those soldiers who served in the European occupation force following WWI. The medal was awarded for service between the years of 1918 and 1923. Wiant was born in 1923.

Photo courtesy Kim Viner

Richard "Dick" Wiant during his Army days.

Enter the German Luger. After Kirby found it, she asked Wiant how he came to be in possession of the antique firearm. His only answer was that he had traded for it. It is plausible that Wiant, along with receiving the Luger in his trade, also received the Army Occupation of Germany medal.

Wiant now resides at the Saratoga Care Center. While he worked at the refinery before he was drafted, he worked at a number of jobs following his return home. Those jobs included herding cattle and sheep, doing dozer work, working in the timber industry and working with seismographs.

"I'm a jack of many trades and a master of none," said Wiant. "I was one of the lucky few people, if I got tired of one job I'd quit on good terms."

June 6 marks the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

 

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