A GREAT DAY FOR CORPORAL ROBERT STENKER, FROM YANK MAGAZINE

By Cpl. Len Zinberg

ITALY–Cpl. Robert Stenker was a quiet, mild-mannered man, about 34, with thin blond hair and soft brown eyes. He was just beginning to get a little stomach. On the morning of June 6 he came into the S-2 tent and sat down behind his typewriter, humming to himself. The invasion had started; it was a very fine morning.



wwii radio equipment stenker

A GI Radio operator at work

At exactly 0845, 2d Lt. Joseph NMI Hillard stepped into the tent. Cpl. Stenker jumped to his feet and saluted. Lt. Hillard gave him a very snappy salute in return. In all Italy, this was probably the only tent in which an officer was saluted at the start of the day, but as the lieutenant often said: “I’m not a stickler for rules and regulations nor do I believe in being too GI. However, some Army traditions must be upheld. So you salute me once every morning, and we’ll let it go at that.”

Lt. Hillard was neat and trim, as lean and hard as any 21-year-old-boy should be. He had clean-cut features, a small fierce dark mustache and a crisp elocution-class way of speaking. He sat down behind his field desk and asked: “Anything new this morning, corporal?”

Cpl. Stenker said: “Of course, sir, you heard the invasion started?”

Lt. Hillard jumped up in his chair and banged the desk with his fist. “By God, no?” For a moment he stared at the corporal in thoughtful silence. “So they’ve done it! Of course you know what this means?”

“Why, it means the end of the war is in sight,” Cpl. Stenker said happily. “I’ve been overseas 23 months. I’ll be glad to get home, see my wife and get a job.”

“A job?” Lt. Hillard repeated slowly. “Corporal, have you had many jobs?”

“Quite a few,” Cpl. Stenker said, filing his reports, “Of course I had the usual run of small jobs. But I was sales manager for an electrical concern for several years. Got married then. I was 24.

“I suppose marriage is quite a responsibility.

“Yes and no. If you make decent dough, you don’t have much trouble. I was getting 75 a week then. I worked as an office manager for about a year; that paid only 60 a week. I’ve worked as a salesman and once I wrote copy for ads. Just before the war, I managed a direct-mail advertising concern. Going rather well. I’ll probably return to it.”

“Sound like decent jobs,” the lieutenant said, lighting a cigarette. He always lit his cigarettes with a neat brisk movement. “I suppose most jobs pay around 50 a week?”

“Maybe in boom times. About 30 is the average.”

“Thirty isn’t much when you have to consider rent and food,” Lt. Hillard said.

“You certainly have to take those items into account. Clothes too.”



“I suppose this sounds strange,” Lt. Hillard said, “but I’ve never had a job. I was in my second year at college, taking a BA, when I came into the Army and went to OCS. Civilian life will be quite a change. Don’t think I’ll go back to college. Too old. Have to look for a job.”

Cpl. Stenker lit a cigar and went on with his filing. Lt. Hillard smoked his cigarette and read a bulletin. Then he put that down and said: “So the invasion’s started. I guess it’s about time.” He suddenly blew out a big cloud of smoke and killed his cigarette. “Bob,” he said, “working in civilian life–I mean, getting a good job–it’s about the same as the Army, isn’t it? I mean, if a man could advance in the Army, he ought to–you know.”

Cpl. Stenker was about to say it was pretty much the same, especially if you worked for a big concern. But he looked over at Lt. Hillard, noticed the tenseness in the lieutenant’s face, and said casually: “No, I’m afraid it isn’t, sir. I should say it was very much different. The Army is one thing, a civilian job another.”

“I suppose so,” Lt. Hillard said weakly.

“Yes, it’s quite different,” the corporal said.

Lt. Hillard opened a War Department letter and read it absently. Cpl. Stenker went on filing reports. He puffed on his cigar slowly, blowing out thin smoke rings. It’s a fine day, he thought–first the invasion and now Lt. Hillard.



For Further Reading Check Out:

Salerno to the Gustav Line 1943–1944: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives


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