|MENU SELECTION:||The Italian Campaign||At The Front||Books||Armies||Maps||85th Division||GI Biographies||Websites|
339th "Polar Bear" Infantry Regiment
85th "Custer" Infantry Division
Henry Nesvacil was older than the average soldier drafted during the war. He entered the Army as a private like most soliders, however, Henry quickly rose through the ranks to become the 1st Sergeant of his company---which is the highest ranking NCO within his unit. This rapid advance was very unusual. Henry was wounded in first day the 85 Division entered battle south of Rome.
Before the War
Henry was 31 years old when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. Henry had an older brother who had served in World War 1. He may have been inspired by his brother to serve his country. Henry entered the Army on May 21, 1942, and was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for basic training. He was one of the many draftees assigned to the 85th Infantry ‘Custer’ Division and to 339th Infantry Regiment within that division.
After basic training, his unit continued to train with the 85th Division in the Louisiana Maneuvers and at the Desert Training Center in Yuma, Arizona. The “custermen” were then sent back across the country to Fort Dix, New Jersey, in final preparation to go overseas. By this time, Henry had been promoted rapidly up through the ranks. When the 1st Sergeant of Company L left to go to OCS, Henry replaced him. The 1st Sergeant was the top ranking NCO of a unit. He provided guidance to all the other sergeants within the company.
On Christmas eve of 1943, Henry departed Newport News, Virginia, on board the USS General Alexander E. Anderson.
They arrived at Casablanca on 2nd January 1944. While in North Africa, they made last minute preparations and continued in further training, including some amphibious warfare training. On 10 March, the 339th Infantry Regiment was the first elemen of the 85th Division to sail to Naples, landing on the 14th. On 16 March, the 339th Regiment went into the front lines to relieve the 349 Infantry Regiment of the 88th Infantry Division. The remainder of the 85th Division joined them as they spent the next month learning first-hand the skills it required to keep them alive.
KP Duty at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
Henry Nesvacil in full uniform at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
In this photo, he is wearing the tunic with tan pants and visor cap, which was
not typically seen in basic training. There is no rank seen on this photo. One
explanation is that was just issued his new tunic. He is wearing his Marksmanship
Badge with three "hangers" for the weapons he qualified with.
During the War
Operation DIADEM was the Allied attack to break through the German GUSTAV Line. A massive artillery barrage began at 11:00pm on May 11th, 1944. The infantryman of the 339th Regiment began advancing up the low hills around Minturno to attack the German positions. The fighting was fierce, especially for the 339th Infantry Regiment. Some companies that started out with 250 men were reduced to only a handful. Henry was wounded by mortar fragments on May 12, 1944. The wounds deflated his left lung. He was evacuated to the hospital for treatment. His wound was serious enough that he was sent back to the US for treatment.
Henry returned to the U.S. for hospitalization and recovery at Percy Jones Hospital Center, Fort Custer, Michigan. Upon release from the hospital he was assigned to 1617 SCU, Detachment #3, MP Detachment, Rotunda Barracks, Dearborn Michigan. He did not return to combat.
Henry was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Stars for major campaigns, WWII Victory Medal for his service in Italy.
After the War
Henry was discharged on Oct 3, 1945 and returned home to Chicago. He returned to his old job. By the time he retired, Henry was Head Pressman on the printing press that printed magazines such as Look, Life and Saturday Evening Post.
Henry lived without a lung for the remainder of his life. He did receive a VA disability check-- which he called his “beer money”-- for the rest of his life.
Henry married Donna in 1948 and they had three sons, Erwin, Michael and Jerry. Henry V. Nesvacil died on January 18, 1976.
Return to Top.
This biography of Henry Nesvacil was contributed by his son, Michael Nesvacil.
Photo of Air Force Sergeant Michael Nesvacil with his father Henry Nesvacil, who is proudly wearing his service tunic On his uniform is the rank of 1st Sergeatn and the "ruptured duck" patch and his Combat Infantryman Badge.
See biography of another 1st Sergeant: 1st Sgt Eric Bauch, 328 FA, 85 Division.
See biography of another "Polar Bear" who was in same battle but was not as lucky -- Pfc Cleaston Patterson.
Return to The Greatest Generation biographies main menu.
Return to Photos from Italy top menu.
Return to History of Italian Campaign top menu.
Return to CusterMen top menu.