Photo 90th Division Assn.
Posted - 04/26/2016 : 13:30:41
| William Joseph Srstka, Senior, age 94, died in his Sioux Falls, South Dakota, home in which he had lived for 47 years on March 2, 2009. Bill was born on his parents’ farm in Moore Township, near Geddes, Charles Mix County, South Dakota, on May 4, 1914. He was the second of four children born to Joseph Thomas Srstka and Mary Agnes (Kolousek) Srstka.
When he was very young the family moved to Crow Lake Township, southwest of Wessington Springs, Jerauld County, South Dakota, and he grew up on the farm. He attended and graduated from Central School in Crow Lake Township and in 1933, he graduated from Wessington Springs High School. He attended what is now Northern State University in Aberdeen for one year. Times were hard in the mid 1930’s and he did not have the funds to finish college. He attended Notre Dame Academy in Mitchell, South Dakota, and obtained a teaching certificate. He then taught country school in Jerauld County. In those days the country school teachers had periodic conventions and meetings, and at one of those gatherings, in the late 1930’s, he met Elvira Welter, another Jerauld County country school teacher.
Bill and Elvira started dating, and they were married at St. Wilfrid Catholic Church, Woonsocket, South Dakota, May 6, 1941. The Great Depression still ruled in South Dakota in those days, and since both were making less than $1000 a year as country school teachers, the couple decided to try something else. With nothing to lose, they went to Washington, D. C., looking for work. Elvira found a job in the State Department and the Veterans Administration had a place for Bill. They were living happily in Virginia and then the District of Columbia when the world turned upside down with the Pearl Harbor attack in December, 1941.
Bill was ordered to report for military duty at the end of 1942, and he, Elvira, and William, Jr., age seven weeks, started the journey to South Dakota. Bill had to report for induction from there and his wife and child were going to live at his wife’s parents’ farm in Blaine Township in Jerauld County southwest of Woonsocket. The little family was caught in a snow storm in the Maryland Mountains, and Bill put his family on a train in Cumberland, Maryland, bound for South Dakota. He struggled back to South Dakota alone in the car.
Bill had served in the 147th Field Artillery National Guard unit before the war, and he always held himself fortunate to become part of Battery B, 915th Field Artillery Battalion, 90th Infantry Division. The division trained in the California desert, and Bill always laughed that the unit never saw a stretch of desert again. The 90th Division participated in the D-Day Normandy Battle and the battle for the Normandy Bocage. Eventually the Allied forces broke out into the open after the Battle of St. Lo, and the 90th, now part of Patton’s 3rd Army, raced across France. Bill participated in the various campaigns in Northern Europe including the Battle of the Bulge. He had a great vivid story about crossing the Rhine under fire. The 90th fought across Germany and at VE Day was in Czechoslovakia preparing to advance on Prague. Since Bill could speak the Czech Language, he served as interpreter locally and in a few meetings with the Soviet Red Army.
Sergeant Srstka was demobilized at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, in October, 1945, and returned to South Dakota. After a few months he resumed his job at the VA in Washington, D. C. The newly passed GI Bill changed his life. He decided to go to law school, and enrolled at the University of South Dakota in 1946. The family of three moved to Vermillion, South Dakota. He had to take college credits to complete his lost education, but by going straight through, year around, he graduated from law school in 1949. The Srstka family was now five members and moved to Wessington Springs where Bill practiced law with Charles Hatch and served as Jerauld County States Attorney. In the late 1950’s U. S. Attorney Clint Richards approached Bill with an offer to become an assistant U. S. Attorney in Sioux Falls. Bill took the position, and the Srstka family, now seven members, moved to Sioux Falls in 1958. In 1961, with the family now at eight members, Bill was appointed Clerk of Courts for the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, and served until he retired in 1980.
Bill and Elvira lived happily in retirement with Bill pursuing his many avocations and hobbies. He joined in Elvira’s declaration: “Every day is like Saturday!” He lost his beloved Elvira in 1990 and he always ruefully noted that he never thought he would outlive her and live as long as he did without her. Bill loved animals. As a boy, he had a horse, Dick, foaled on the same day that Bill was born and he had a lifelong love of horses. One of his proudest possessions is a picture of “GI Joe” Bill on a captured German army horse. He loved Siamese cats and Brittany Spaniels. He loved feeding and watching birds. First he tried to thwart the squirrels, and then he gave up and decided to feed them as well.
He had a phenomenal memory and a quick mind. He was an intellectual and in another life and place would have been a great Oxford Don. He was fortunate to have these gifts to the end of his life. He read extensively until the last few years when his sight started to fail. He was a legendary master of woodworking. He made hundreds of gifts for his children, their spouses and his grandchildren. His largest project was undoubtedly the amazing rocking horses for his grandchildren. He had a skill for needlepoint and cross stitch and made many beautiful projects to distribute to his family. Governor Bill Janklow appointed him to the commission that wrote the new child support law, and he was proud of his service there.
His family’s tribute is that he was a loving father and a doting grandfather. Bills three proudest accomplishments were his family, his military service and his profession as a lawyer. He cherished his legendary Saturday luncheons with members of his family and often other friends.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Elvira, his daughter, Katherine, his parents, his older brother, Leo, who died as an infant, and his brother Frank. He is survived by five children and their spouses, William, Jr. (Carol), Donald (Cynthia), Robert (Kim) of Sioux Falls, Jean (Troy) Benson of Methuen, Massachusetts, Mary (Michael) Day of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and by his sister, Leona Wessels, Huron, South Dakota. Bill was the proud grandfather of eleven grandchildren.