Few people would consider themselves lucky if they went long periods of time wondering where their next meal was coming from, slept regularly in holes in the ground as snow piled up all around as they listened to explosions blare from every angle wondering if the next one would hit you. But, Moffitt volunteer Boris Stern says he is very fortunate. He went off to fight in World War II with 179 other men in his company and is one of only 18 who returned home alive.
Boris Stern remembers WWII like it was yesterday. He vividly talks about boot camp and playing baseball on the company team before being shipped overseas. His unit saw their first casualty shortly after landing on a beach in 1944, just 10 minutes after seeking shelter in a German bunker.
The names, places and battles don’t escape Boris’ memory. He recalls fighting in Winterspelt and Manhay and especially in St. Vith. St. Vith is where he found himself under attack after loading up on ammunition and food. St. Vith will always stick out in his mind because years after the war ended and Boris was living in Chicago he went to get a haircut. Two of the three barber chairs were full, so he sat in a third and his barber had a thick German accent. The two got to talking and it turns out that the barber fought that night at St. Vith.
He’ll never forget the hundreds of rockets raining down and showering the troops as a snow storm blew across the countryside. It seemed endless until Boris opened his eyes after spending the night in a field and he saw a blue sky overhead. It was the bluest sky he had seen in days. He remembers the bone chilling cold that surrounded him as he gazed upward. That serene beauty was short lived and by noon the sky was no longer visible. Vapor trails from war planes cast a dark cloud overhead.
On Christmas Eve of 1944, he remembers going back to the enemy line and hearing the sound of Christmas carols fill the air. In Grand Halleux, he saved the lives of two men and two women traveling with the USO by ordering them to turn around. It was there that he dug a fox hole next to a building that ended up being bombed. He and his wife returned to the town in 1989 and there is now a marker commemorating the battle and he could still see the remains of the fox hole he dug.
When the war ended, Boris was sent to France to recuperate and then worked at a prison camp on the Rhine River. On March 10, 1946, Boris was discharged from the Army and returned home with just a small fraction of the men he traveled to Europe with two years earlier.
Boris married and had two sons. He went to college and become the Chief Operating Officer of Allied Chemical and President and Chief Operating Officer of the Briggs Division of the Jim Walter Corporation.
On July 14, 2017, Bastille Day, Boris is being named a knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor for his service during WWII. Boris still gives selflessly to be of service to others by volunteering at Moffitt Cancer Center and the VA hospital in Tampa.