The following was presented on 22 September 2011 during the observance of the 60th Anniversary of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC), Bridgeport, California (AKA: Pickel Meadow) in dedication of its Legacy Hut to the memory of Lt. Col. Stanley J. Wawrzyniak, USMC. Some of the senior officers in attendance were: The Guest of Honor, Col. Glenn E. Martin, USMC (Ret.)
Maj. Gen. Orlo K. Steele, USMC (Ret.); Maj. Gen. Thomas S. Jones, USMC (Ret.); C.G., Training & Education Command, Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, USMC; C.G., MAGTF Training Command, Brig. Gen. George W. Smith, USMC; and C.O., MCMWTC, Col. Phillip W. Chandler, USMC. Non-permanent MCMWTC personnel in attendance numbered over 200. The following is adapted from an article of the same name that first appeared on MILINET in 1996.

 

 A “SKI” STORY

  BY:
    Anthony F. Milavic
     Major, United States Marine Corps (Retired)


     

     CLICK ON THE BELOW TO HEAR THE FOLLOWING TEXT NARRATED

     

Colonel Martin, General Steele, staff, and friends of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, I stand here in profound humility and gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the dedication of the Legacy Hut to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel Stanley J. Wawrzyniak, United States Marine Corps. I have often said, “I learned how to be a Marine at Parris Island, South Carolina; and, I learned how to lead Marines at Pickel Meadow, California.” Serving here as a Senior Instructor-Guide, then Captain Wawrzyniak was an ever-present inspiration in that learning process. In preparing to introduce him to you, I recalled how, in his signature rasping voice, he would introduce himself to students here, by saying: “I’m Captain Wawrzyniak. Since none o' ya can pronounce my name, call me, ‘Captain Ski!’ ”

During a telephone conversation with Colonel Gordon Keiser, USMC (Ret) in 1996, I learned that Ski had passed away the previous year on 26 October at his home in Swansboro, North Carolina and was buried in the Veterans’ Cemetery in nearby Jacksonville. We wondered aloud why a Marine like him wasn’t in Arlington National Cemetery. Later, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Greisen, USMC (Ret) mentioned that Ski was a family man. Then, it dawned on me: in this way, he is near his families in both Swansboro and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

After dropping out of high school, Ski served “a short hitch” in the Navy. Switching to the Marine Corps, he went to China in the late ‘40s. By 1951, he was in Korea fighting Chinese Communists (CHICOMs) with the 5th Marine Regiment where he was ultimately awarded two Navy Crosses, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. On one occasion, Ski was leading an assault up a hill when CHICOM grenades exploded behind him exposing his ass bleeding from multiple wounds. At this sight, the Marines following him began to laugh. Ski turned and shouted, “What the hell ya sons-o’-bitches laughin’ at?” They laughed harder and some laughed so hard they rolled back down the hill. My apologies, I was going to use the word buttocks to describe that part of Ski’s anatomy in the previous thought when I realized that he did not have a buttocks: You see, Ski had an ass.

His second Navy Cross started out as a Medal of Honor recommendation. When the Commanding General, 1st Marine Division told him that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor, he also promoted him to meritorious master sergeant––at the time, Ski had five years and eight months in the Marine Corps. Sometime later during a company formation at Camp Lejeune, the First Sergeant asked if anyone wanted to apply for an officer program? Ski raised his hand. The First Sergeant asked what made him think he was officer material? He replied, “I can do as good a job as the dumb-shit lieutenants I’ve seen so far.” The First Sergeant agreed and Ski became an officer. You see, Ski was very perceptive.

I first met him in 1960 here, at the then called, Marine Corps Cold Weather Training Center. Almost immediately after reporting-in, I was bombarded by “Ski" stories. One took place when he was a student in the Mountain Leadership Training Course. While practicing a glacier rescue technique, he was dropped by his belayer into a crevasse and sustained internal injuries. The route out consisted of descending 2,000 feet of elevation and traversing some three miles of horizontal distance over terrain that ran the gamut from gravel-like surfaces to boulder-covered slopes. Refusing to be carried, he walked out carrying his own rucksack and, during rest stops, he urinated blood. When he heard that his belayer was being blamed for his injuries because he wasn’t ready to brake his fall, Ski said, “It wasn’t his fault, it was my fault fer not makin’ sure he was ready.” You see, Ski believed that a Marine leader was responsible for BOTH his actions and his inactions.

Anyhow, I first really met him one day during a PT run when I slowed to a walk in order to vomit. He came up behind me and kicked me in the ass, barking: “Move out! It tastes the same if yer walkin' er if yer runnin'!” You see, Ski didn't believe in slowing down.

In the summer of ‘60, he was the Senior Instructor-Guide of the Mountain Leadership Training Section and I was going through the Course as a student. The practical application phase of the Mountain Walking Class included walking up the 11,321-foot White Mountain. I had just taken off my rucksack after arriving at the summit when Ski appeared with a climbing rope over his shoulder leading back to a sergeant who had tried to quit. Just as the sergeant got to the mountain crest, Ski dropped his end of the climbing rope. Unfortunately, the sergeant wasn’t fully past the edge and he fell backwards down the mountain. Ski ran over to the edge and shouted, “Ya son-of-a-bitch! I pull ya up this mountain ‘n’ then ya go 'n' roll back down it!” He then turned and shouted: “Milavic! You ‘n' Greisen go down there ‘n' bring that ungrateful bastard back up here.” You see, Ski would not let you quit. 

Days later, we were learning how to do something called, “a practice fall.”  It was my turn and I had tied one end of a climbing rope around my waist––the rope was supposed to “brake” the fall––and backed up to the edge of a 100-foot cliff. The object of the exercise was to jump off backwards and, while in the air, change the body position from the vertical to one 45 to 90 degrees from the vertical so the feet wound-up on the cliff-face. Well, I jumped backwards but I went straight up and straight down rubbing my knuckles, chin, nose, and forehead on the cliff face. As I hung there trying to get my breath (the climbing rope around my waist had gotten tight “braking” my fall), I heard this . . . voice, “Ya screwed up, didn’t ya? Well, how long ya gonna hang there like a limp dick?” I climbed back up to the cliff-head. As I stood there bleeding and wheezing, Ski came over and, in almost fatherly tones, asked, “Are ya OK? D’ya wanna take a break before tryin’ again?” I said I was OK and wanted to go ahead and get it over with. Well, it took two more tries to get it right. As I was bouncing off the cliff-face with my feet in the right position, I heard that voice again, “Why didn’t ya do that the first time? Quit screwin’ around ‘n' get back up here!” You see, Ski always had an encouraging word.

Months later, he came through the Escape, Evasion, and Survival Training Course as a student. During the Evasion and Survival Exercise of the Course, his team went unseen by the instructors for the four days of the Exercise. He just kept his team on the high ground––something he had learned in Korea––and watched us scamper around the valley. That was the first time we “aggressors” didn’t capture at least one student from each team in a class. Ski finished first in his class. As a matter of fact, he finished first in a lot of things such as Army Airborne School and Army Ranger School. However, Ski believed he should have finished first for he was much older and more experienced than his classmates: At “Jump School” and Ranger School, he was 34 and 35 years old respectively. You see, Ski was very logical.

Here at the Training Center, he was also the Mess Officer. One weekend morning, I was sitting in the staff NCO mess with Staff Sergeants “Wild Bill” Lightfoot, “B.B.” Goodrich, and “Big Orange” Swaggert when he came in and saw a bunch of students––lieutenants––sitting around on the officer side of the mess (the two were separated by a salad bar). As if shot from a gun, Ski was over there pulling the chairs out from under them while shouting, “Whaddaya think this is, a lounge? Get outta my mess hall! Go! Go! Go!” Lieutenants ran every which way. Ski was only 5’ 6” tall. So, I guess it was because he looked like a Bull Dog that scared those lieutenants. Well, when they were all gone, I started to laugh and he came over and said, “Milavic what the---expletive deleted--are ya laughin’ at?” I answered,  “You, Captain! You’re the funniest thing on this base.”  He looked at me and continued, “Ya know? Yer right!” He then started laughing with me. We all sat there for . . . whatever and told sea stories and laughed. You see, Ski liked to laugh.

In April of ‘61, we were giving a martial arts demonstration in the town of Bridgeport when it came his turn to speak to the audience: “Now that Lieutenant Clapp has shown ya Judo ‘n’ Staff Sergeant Milavic Karate, yer probably wonderin' what I do. Well, I’m the eyeball ‘n' groin man.” He then proceeded to “eyeball” me and “groin” Lieutenant Clapp, or maybe it was the other way around, to the delight of the audience. You see, even civilians liked Ski.

There was also the time, he was the Officer of the Day and had to read a Letter of Censure as part of a
sentence given a Marine at Office Hours by Colonel Glenn E. Martin, our Commanding Officer. The whole Training Center was mustered to hear Captain Ski “censure” this Marine. As he read it, their were a lot of words in that Letter that we didn't understand. Well, when Ski also realized that, he shoved the Letter into the hands of the Marine saying, “Take this damn thing 'n' don’t screw up again!” You see, Ski knew how to communicate.

It was about that time, one of our officers told me that Captain Ski didn’t have much of a future in the Marine Corps because he wasn’t a college graduate. Ironically, that officer, who was a college graduate, was passed over twice for major and separated from the Corps and Ski went on to retire as a lieutenant colonel. You see, while that officer learned about war by studying it in college, Ski learned about war by leading Marines in combat.

During our telephone conversation, Col. Keiser reminded me of Ski’s assignment as Protocol Officer to some general on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. It seems he screwed up a general’s visit to his general. His general took him aside and said, “Wawrzyniak, you screw up another visit by a general officer and I’ll send you to Vietnam.” Ski replied, “Sir, when’s the next general comin'? I’m in a hurry ta get ta Vietnam.” I understand that he didn’t have to wait too much longer. While there, he served as the Executive Officer, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines where he was awarded two Bronze Stars and his fourth Purple Heart. He told me a story about being with a patrol returning to home base one night. Only after making sure that every member of the patrol had returned safely did he enter friendly lines as well. The Marine letting them into the position said, “Major, with all due respect, you got more balls than brains.” You see, balls or brains, Ski used whatever it took to care for his Marines.


In 1972, I met him again when he was the Commanding Officer of Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. One day, he told me a story about when he was with 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company back around ‘63. The company commander had received a letter from some kid who had seen a TV special on Force Reconnaissance and had made up his mind to be a Force Reconnaissance Marine officer. He wrote to ask the C.O. what he should do to prepare himself for that day. The First Sergeant got the job of writing the response. When Ski learned about this, he told the First Sergeant that he would like to write the closing lines. To the letter, Ski added, “You must also learn how to talk like an officer. Therefore, you should immediately begin practicing using words like . . . ” and he listed a number of expletives. When the C.O. saw it, he became . . . well, unhappy; Ski laughed. You see, Ski really liked to laugh.

A year or so later, I ran into him at Camp Lejeune. One night, I was at the Officer’s Club talking to some lieutenants from 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company when one of them was described as someone who had, once upon a time, sent a letter to the C.O. of the Company seeking guidance on preparing himself to become a Force Reconnaissance officer. I could hardly believe it and the lieutenant was beside himself when I told him the rest of the story. I immediately telephoned Ski and in less than a heartbeat he was there. The two of them spent the rest of the night talking. You see, Ski always had time to talk to another Marine.

On leaving Okinawa in ’72 or ‘73, he had a change of command ceremony. Now, remember, this is the Commanding Officer of Headquarters Battalion. After the formalities, it took an hour for all the people there to shake his hand. There were, of course, Marines and then officers and NCOs from all the other services as well as a gaggle of civilians. Although it was never confirmed, I think there were even some CHICOMs, North Koreans, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese in that group.

That turnout was suggestive of an even larger group spread throughout the Marine family who knew, followed, and admired him . . . no! Love him! That’s not a slip of the tongue––We love him! No, I don’t mean he went around patting us on the ass or hugging us. Ski was a leader of Marines who knew each of us; communicated to each of us; and, each of us knew he cared about each of us. If he sometimes cursed at us; that was OK, because he was always with us: at PT, climbing a mountain, falling off a cliff, in war, or, wherever--he was always with us!  You see . . . WE see that Ski didn’t try to move mountains: He moved Marines and conquered mountains!

In preparing to introduce him to you, I also wondered what Ski would say about our pausing here to reflect sentimentally over him? Well, the answer was not long in coming: “Move out! It tastes the same if yer walkin’ er if yer runnin’!” [Render hand salute] Aye! Aye! Sir!
 
                                                                      Semper Fidelis 

Stanley J. Wawrzyniak 
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Marine Corps
7 October 1927––26 October 1995

  

 PHOTO ALBUM

 

Introduction By:
       COL PHILLIP W CHANDLER, USMC    
  
 

                                                                                                                                                                       Speaker:   
MAJ ANTHONY F MILAVIC, USMC(RET)




COL GLENN E MARTIN, USMC (RET) UNLOCKS LEGACY HUT




                                                                          GUEST OF HONOR                        SENIOR OFFICER PRESENT 
                                                COL GE MARTIN, USMC (RET)         MAJGEN OK STEELE, USMC (RET)





E CLAMPUS VITUS MONUMENT




CLOSE-UP OF MONUMENT'S PLAQUE




HEADQUARTERS, MCMWTC VIEWED FROM PICKEL MEADOW





PICKEL MEADOW VIEWED FROM THE HEADQUARTERS, MCMWTC 
WITH WEST WALKER RIVER FLOWING RIGHT TO LEFT IN CENTER OF PHOTO & ROUTE 108 IN FOREGROUND RUNNING RIGHT-WEST TO LEFT-EAST

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