Collectively, veterans Alec Noga and Stan Nadel have been awarded more than 20 battle stars, medals, and commendations for their service in WWII and the Korean war, respectively. These two honored heroes have been selected as the co-marshals of this year's Memorial Day Parade, and are most able leaders to usher in this first parade of the new millennium.
Both would scoff at the idea of being heroes, but heroes they are. Alec Noga was carefully pruning his bountiful peony bushes when I first met him; it is a far cry from the miserable scene that greeted him when he landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy France, on D-Day. An 18-year old Army enlistee, Noga was trained in construction, mines, and demolition. His unit became the 5th Engineer Special Brigade with three engineer battalions. They were sent first to Weymouth, England, a gathering area for the invasion of France on D-Day. Alec recalls the momentous day: "We set sail for France late at night on June 5th, 1944 (and ) arrived at 10 a.m. the next morning, June 6th. We were supposed to land at 5 or 6 a.m. but we couldn't because of the weather and the tremendous enemy opposition. The water was too rough...to land so we went down the cargo net to board a landing craft tanker...we were dropped off about 100 feet from shore ...the water was so deep we had to swim to shore." As they swam, there was enemy fire overhead, and a cross-current in the water, he remembers. Some soldiers couldn't swim, so they had to drop the weighty packs they carried on their backs. Alec sadly remembers the scene that greeted him as he swam ashore: "I saw misery...dead bodies. I was wondering if I was going to last a day."
Noga recalls that when they reached the beach, enemy fire was so fierce they were forced to run through a minefield to take cover by a hill. "I had to stop in the middle of the mine field," he explained, "because it was like a swamp...I fired about 30 rounds into the enemy bunker, and moved on...you had to get off the beach." Miraculously, he was unhurt. At night, they began to clear mines and obstacles. But the sights on the beach were gruesome and haunting. "There were bodies laying all over the beach, many piled up like cordwood. I felt sorry for the burial squad; they had the worst job," he said, as tears welled up in his eyes.
His unit was next sent to Cherbourg, then Belgium. On the way, Noga recalls "Our convoy stopped in Paris and I was told by a lieutenant that the place we were going was already in German hands..that was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge." Once there, "the German paratroopers were landing all round us, " Noga said. Still, they had to sand the icy roads so the U.S. tanks could move. He was sent next to Metz, Germany, and Cologne, where he sustained injuries while constructing a steel bailey bridge. He was sent to a Paris Hospital. When the war ended, Noga was 20 years old, still in the hospital.
For his service, Noga received battle stars for Ardennes, Central Europe, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Arrowhead. He also received these Unit Citations: Presidential, Croix De Guerre, and Meritorious. But of far greater importance to him is the special thanks he would like to extend to the Colonel of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade. Noga overheard the Colonel argue that his troops had to be on the exiting boats, and he would not leave until he was assured they would not be bumped from the vessel. "Without him, many of us in the brigade would not be here," said a grateful Noga.
Noga is a lifelong Port Washingtonian; he returned to his hometown after the war and with two brothers, opened a gas station on the corner of Manorhaven Blvd. and Shore Road; later, they opened an auto parts center. He retired in 1980, enjoying time with Dot, his wife of 43 years, son Kenneth, daughters Linda and Carol, and four grandchildren: Robby, Stephanie, Sharon, and Jennifer. He is a member of VFW Post 1819, and also belongs to the Elks and Moose Lodge. Noga came from a large family of four brothers (Adam, Peter, Gene, and Bruno) and five sisters (Mary, Josephine, Bernice, Wilma, and Gigi); his parents Joseph and Anna, who lived to 101 and 95, respectively, had cows and chickens at their Avenue B home. Peter, Mary, and Bruno are deceased; another brother, Frank, died in infancy. Commenting that he's "proud to be an American," Noga continues to stay in touch with the men of his battalion, known as the Ramhead Battalion, and he's attended many reunions. Though he was offered two college scholarships just after he enlisted and couldn't take advantage of either, he said, "I'm happy I did what I did. Life turns out for the best."
Equally modest and just as courageous is Noga's co-marshal, Stan Nadel. Nadel was 19 when he enlisted in the Army in May, 1952. After three months of basic training, he was sent to Korea. A rifleman with the 224th Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry division, Nadel saw action from the moment he arrived in Chunchon, Korea; constant shelling greeted their convoy truck. Shortly thereafter, his company moved into the area known as the "Punchbowl." "It was on the line," Nadel explained, "and it was one of the main areas where action was occurring." His platoon was assigned to special night patrol missions. One such mission was to go to an enemy camp, hit the bunker, and take prisoners. Though they -- Nadel and just seven others -- hit the bunker and started firing, they were terribly outnumbered. There they had to remain until the company commander finally gave them permission to pull out.
The night patrols were grueling; often, they were out until daylight, and caught only one hour's sleep before day patrol started. On the front lines, they were perhaps 500 to 800 yards from the enemy's hill. In 1953, though Nadel could have been relieved of this front-line assignment, and gone on reserve, he volunteered to remain. On one mission, Nadel was picked as the point man -- the one to venture ahead of others to survey the danger -- but as he proceeded, Nadel hit a trip mine. "I was hit in both legs, hit in the stomach, the arm, nerves were cut, and I was thrown by the explosion," Nadel explains. He was taken to a MASH Unit, transported to an evacuation hospital, and eventually sent to a hospital in Japan.
About six months after sustaining severe injuries, Nadel was given orders to return to Korea, though he had a serious leg infection and couldn't bend his arm or his legs easily. Nevertheless, he returned to duty with the 79th Engineers and was promoted to Corporal.
Nadel received a commendation from Adjutant General A.E.Peschell from the Office Headquarters of the 40th Division that said, in part:
Private First Class Stan Nadel...distinguished himself by meritorious achievement in Korea...Private Nadel, fully realizing the added risks and dangers, volunteered to remain behind as a member of his company patrol, while his unit was relieved on the main line of resistance. As a member of this
patrol, Private Nadel was instrumental in maintaining the tactical security
for three nights during the relief. Each night, Private Nadel, with his fellow
soldiers, went out in front of the main line resistance, frequently under direct
observation of the enemy and heavy fire, to accomplish their vital missions.
Private Nadel's willingness to assume added risk, loyalty, and outstanding
devotion to duty reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
His heroic service earned him numerous medals, including the Army Combat Infantry Badge, the Army Commendation Medal Valor and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart for Valor, Good Conduct Medal, Conspicuous Service, State of New York, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three Battle Stars, Armed Forces Reserve Army, UN Korean Service F/S, Army, and Korean Presidential Unit Citation.
When he returned to civilian life, Nadel worked in the heating and air conditioning field. In 1959, he married Ruth Kopta; they have three children: Glenn, Ruth, and James. Stan is incredibly proud of his six grandchildren: Ruth, Steven, William, Evan, Caroline, and Emma. All of his family live in Port. Moving here in 1985, Nadel said, "[it] is the best thing we ever did. Our only regret is we didn't move here sooner." Nadel is a life member of the VFW Henderson Marino Post 1819, and is an American Legion member as well. Nadel commented that he is especially proud to be co-marshal of this year's parade, and feels "it is an honor." The Korean war is often called the "forgotten war," and Nadel hopes to foster greater understanding that "though this is referred to as a basic police action, it was a war." He adds, "We had 54,000 men killed, and 8,000 are still missing. Approximately 150,000 were wounded." Indeed, it's most fitting that he is being recognized and appointed co-marshal at this time, as we reach the fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War (1950-1953).
As the community cheers these heroes and others on May 29th, we remember those who lost their lives in service to the country. We will miss seeing WWI veteran George Bergman in the town's parade, and he will be remembered. And though Noga and Nadel express gratitude to many, it is a fervent hope that they accept the thanks of a grateful community and nation.