Pfc. Walter Tatko gets Distinguished Service Cross for destroying 2 German halftracks

It was while Walter Tatko of Venice, Fla. was serving in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in France during World War II he and a buddy, Pfc. Frank Zalewski, knocked out a couple of German halftracks loaded with enemy troops.

For their bravery they each were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The DSC ranks just below the Medal of Honor.

Pfc. Tatko with Patton's 3rd Army in France during World War II. Photo provided

Pfc. Tatko with Patton’s 3rd Army in France during World War II. Photo provided

Pfc. Tatko began the war by landing at Anzio, Italy with Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army, continued north up the Italian boot and ran the Germans out of Rome. Then, during the Invasion of Southern France on Aug. 15, 1944, he joined Patton’s forces and helped wrap up the Second World War. He served in A-Company, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, with Patton.

“I could hear some noise in the background that sounded like German tanks. I knew what I was hearing wasn’t ours,” Tatko recalled 70 years later. “I told Frank we needed to check out what I was hearing. We both headed in the same direction as the noise from the mechanized equipment was getting louder and louder.

“Frank had a bazooka and I had a couple of bazooka shells. We were up on a hill looking down and had a good view of what was coming toward us. A German halftrack filled with soldiers was getting closer and closer.

“I loaded the bazooka, tapped Frank on the back and told him, ‘Fire away.’ We were maybe 20 feet away when the shell went right in the cabin of the halftrack. Nobody climbed out of the damaged vehicle. They were all killed!

“We could hear another halftrack coming our way, so we moved our position. It was moving toward us very, very slowly because the Germans could see the first halftrack had been hit.

“We were in a position to see the side of the second halftrack as it moved slowly by us. Our bazooka shell hit the turret of the second halftrack. The Germans opened up on us with a lot of machine-gun fire. Then the firing died out. We must have hit it in the right place because we didn’t hear any more firing from the second halftrack.

“At that point a captain came up, looked at the two destroyed vehicles and asked, ‘Are you two guys responsible for those two knocked out German vehicles?’

“I said, ‘Yes.’

“‘You’ve done a big thing here today. You saved a lot of Americans from getting shot up. I’m going to write you up for a commendation.’

“The captain took both our names and left. That’s the last we heard about any awards until after the war,” Tatko said. “I got a notice in the mail from the War Department in 1945 saying I had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. They sent me the medal and the commendation that goes with it.”

Tatko at 90 at his home in Venice.

Tatko at 90 at his home in Venice, Fla. with a shadow box full of medals including the DSC and the Purple Heart. Photo provided

The commendation reads:

“Private First Class Walter A. Tatko United States Army, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations while serving with Company-A, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division, 3rd Army in action against enemy forces on 27 August 1944. Private First Class Tatko’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself and, 3rd Infantry Division and the United States Army.

Zalewski’s family received a DSC about the same time as Tatko. He was killed in action exactly a month after they destroyed the halftracks on 27th Sept. 1944. He is buried in the Epinal American Cemetery in Epinal, France.

“After we got over the bridge they took me to a first-aid station.I was told by one of the aides to lie down on a stretcher. I did and passed out from my wounds,” he said. “When I woke up I was on an operating table in a field hospital looking up at a nurse who told me, ‘We’re going to take care of you. You’re gonna be alright.’

“After they finished operating on me I was put on a C-47 transport plane and flown back to Italy. There I underwent another operation and when I woke up I had a cast on my arm from the tips of my fingers to my shoulder.

“From there I went by hospital ship to Boston. I took a hospital train to Washington and ended up in Walter Reed Army Hospital. When they removed the cast from my left arm I could hardly move it. After two months of therapy at the hospital it was almost as good as new.

“Shortly after I got out of the hospital I was discharged from the Army. By then it was after VJ-Day (Victory over Japan). After working 2 1/2 years as an apprentice tool maker I went to work for Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia. Twenty-eight-years later when I retired I was responsible for all the small arms ammunition made at Frankford Arsenal.

Walter and his wife "Curly." Photo provided

Walter and his wife “Curly.” Photo provided

Tatko and his wife, “Curly,” who died in 2001, have two children: Audrey and Stanley. Today Walter lives with Stanley at his home in Venice.

Tatko’s File

Name: Walter A. Tatko
D.O.B:  29 Nov. 1924
D.O.D.: 16 Oct. 2015
Hometown:  Philadelphia, Pa.
Entered Service: 17 Sept. 1943
Discharged:  2 July 1945
Rank:  Private 1st Class
Unit:  A Company, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
Commendations:   Distinguished Service Cross, American Defense Service Medal, Purple Heart, European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Medal
Battles/Campaigns:  European Theatre

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view Tatko’s collection in the Library of Congress.

Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.

Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.

Walter A. Tatko

29 November 1924 – 16 October 2015

Walter A. Tatko, 90, of Venice, FL, formerly of Philadelphia, PA passed away on October 16, 2015.

Walter was born in Philadelphia, PA to John and Helen (Stasiewicz) on November 29, 1924 as 1 of 7 children.

Walter was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He served in North Africa, Italy, and France. For his bravery and heroic actions, in addition to having been wounded during battle, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, WW II Victory, Good Conduct, and Campaign medals.

After his military service, Walter was employed at Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, where he was responsible for testing and quality control of military ordnance.

He was preceded in death by his wife Helen (Markowski), also of Philadelphia, PA. Walter is survived by his daughter Audrey and her husband John Wendolowski, and his son Stanley. In addition, he is survived by his grandchildren Melissa Tatko and Alexander Tatko. Walter is also survived by sister Regina, and brothers Leonard & Raymond.

There will be a celebration of Walter’s life at 1:00 pm on Sunday, November 8th at Farley Funeral Home, Venice, Florida. He will be laid to rest with military honors in Sarasota National Cemetery at 11:00 am on Monday, November 9th.

To send condolences, please visit http://www.farleyfuneralhome.com. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Walter A. Tatko to the Wounded Warrior Project at http://www.WoundedWarriorProject.org or Wounded Warrior Project, P. O. Box 75817, Topeka, KS 66675.

The corporal commanding the three-man honor guard at the Monday funeral of former Army Sgt. Walter Tatko of Venice at Sarasota National Cemetery present his son, Stanley, with his burial flag. In the foreground Leonard Tatko, the soldier’s younger brother, and other family members. Sun photo by Mary Auenson

The corporal commanding the three-man honor guard at the Monday funeral of former Army Sgt. Walter Tatko of Venice at Sarasota National Cemetery present his son, Stanley, with his burial flag. In the foreground Leonard Tatko, the soldier’s younger brother, and other family members. Sun photo by Mary Auenson

Sgt. Walter Tatko laid to rest at Sarasota National Cemetery

By DON MOORE
Sun Correspondant

Walter Tatko of Venice joined the silent ranks of the 12,000 service men and women interred at Sarasota National Cemetery Monday.

Thirty-five mourners gathered under an open pavilion and heard a priest read Bible passages, but say nothing about the deceased’s military service to his country during World War II.

Tatko was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds suffered while fighting in France with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. He was also awarded The Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, and a Silver Star for being part of a two-man bazooka team that kicked out two Germanhalf-tracks filled with enemy troops.

The 90-year-old local resident was also the recipient of the Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB), for being in battle under enemy fire, Defense Service Medal, Eurpean-African-Middle-Eastern Theatre Medal, Good Conduct Medal and World War II Victory Medal.

An Army corporal in dress blues commanded a three-man honor guard consisting of a flag bearer and bugler.

The two soldiers stood at attention along the sidewalk leading to the pavilion. Off to one side the bugler braced at attention clutching his bugle at his side.

The service began after “Taps” was sounded.

Standing in front of the gathering the other two soldiers took the American flag from an altar-like table where the cremains of the old soldier rested in an urn inside a brown velvet bag.

They stepped to the front of the crowd and unfolded the flag. They repeated the flag folding procedure by turning the flag into a perfect red, white and blue triangle.

With precision the corporal presented the folded flag to Stanley Tatko, the soldier’s grown son.

“This flag is presented on behalf of the President of the United States, a grateful nation and the U.S. Army as a token of appreciation for your loved-one’s honorable and grateful service,” the corporal softly told the son.

Former Sgt. Tatko died Oct. 16, 2015 at Doctors Hospital in Sarasota with his family at his bedside. His funeral was over in 15 minutes. The mourners drifted off after paying their respects to the family.

The sergeant’s white head stone is the latest in an ever-increasing line of military graves. The first soldier was laid to rest at the 300-acre national cemetery in Sarasota County in January 2009.

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