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The Story of Wayne "Skinny" Sisk

From the Band of Brothers

World War II Soldiers

by Dennis Pollock

Wayne Sisk served his country as a member of what has become the most famous company of World War II, Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division. The dramatic tales of their valor and victories were known only to a relative few until historian Stephen Ambrose wrote their story in the book, Band of Brothers, and Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks bought the rights and turned it into an Emmy Award-winning television miniseries. Today sales of both book and DVD series have gone into the stratosphere, and you can find websites and chat rooms on the Internet where war buffs continually discuss the history of Easy Company and the lives and exploits of its paratroopers.

At first glance Wayne wouldn't have looked too much like a tough paratrooper. He might have been 5' 7" at the most, and rightfully deserved the nickname "Skinny." But his growing up years in the hills of West Virginia had toughened him. He had two older brothers who loved to pick on him and his only means of survival was to make himself as tough as they were. As he grew he got to the point where he could hold his own not only with his brothers but with anyone else in his community. His hot temper and lengthening list of guys he had whipped gained him a reputation as a tough guy, and he sometimes got into fights just because someone wanted to see if he was as bad as people said he was.

Paratrooper

When the war began Wayne decided that if he was going to fight for his country, he wanted to fight with the best outfit possible. To him that meant the paratroopers. Sisk was soon sent to Camp Toccoa, Georgia. Training was intense, even brutal. Two thirds of the hand-picked enlisted men washed out, as they were put through a regimen of physical training that kept them constantly exhausted. It was far more demanding than any professional football player or boxer would experience in their training camps today. The men crawled on their bellies on ground covered with hog entrails while live machine gun ammo buzzed over their heads. Their commanding officer, Herbert Sobel, combined fanaticism and tyranny, with a good measure of sadism. The result was that Easy Company became one of the best conditioned companies in the entire army, united in their desire to show what they could do and in their hatred of their commander. Some even talked about shooting him once they got into combat, but fortunately for him and them, Sobel was transferred before they saw combat.

Easy company had their first taste of combat in the most dramatic event of the war. They were sent to parachute into Normandy on the night before D-day, when the Americans would invade German-held France. They had been training for nearly 22 months for this day. Though they were physically about as ready as it was possible to be, it was a fearful time for the young men who were about to find out what it was like to have to kill or be killed. As they made their way across the English channel in C-47s, Wayne broke the nervous tension a bit when he called out, "Does anybody here want to buy a good watch?" There was a roar of laughter, but solemnity soon prevailed again. As their planes reached the Normandy coast anti-aircraft fire filled the sky, causing the pilots to fly too low and give the jump order without slowing hardly at all. Some men were dropped so low their parachutes didn't have time to open and all perished. Nearly all the men lost their bag of weapons as the ferocious airstream stripped them from their bodies.

Wayne landed safely and soon heard a fellow paratrooper calling out to him. He had been severely injured by his fall and could not move. Wayne put together a hasty home-made stretcher using parachute silk and spent the next couple of days dragging him to safety and medical help. (Over fifty years later, when Wayne attended the 1998 reunion, the two met again. His aged buddy expressed his appreciation, saying, "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here.")

Combat

Thus began for Wayne Sisk and Easy Company nearly a year of some of the most intense fighting seen in World War II. As a crack paratrooper outfit, they were put in situations where they were frequently outnumbered, outgunned, and sometimes ended up completely surrounded. Perhaps their most miserable and trying engagement was at the Belgian town of Bastogne. The battle occurred as a result of Hitler's last ditch counteroffensive just as the American and British armies were on the verge of invading Germany. The Germans massed a huge number of tanks and troops to break through the American lines with the intention of splitting the Americans from the British and cutting off their supply base at Antwerp. The town of Bastogne became critical as all the major roads Hitler needed for his troops to reach their destination went through it.

Ike encouraging troops

At first the Allies were taken by complete surprise, and the American army was routed. General Eisenhower quickly saw that Bastogne must be held at any cost and sent the 101st airborne in to stop the German advance. As they made their way toward Bastogne many regular army soldiers were fleeing for their lives in the opposite direction. Captain Richard Winters wrote: "As we passed them, they hollered, 'Run, run! They've got everything; tanks, planes, everything!' I am proud to say that I do not remember any of our men saying a single word in reply. We afforded them no recognition. We just kept walking toward the firefight that lay somewhere up ahead." Sisk and his company faced two enemies in the days ahead: the Germans and the cold. Winters writes, "Life on the front line was horrific. The winter of 1944-45 was the coldest in thirty years. Until the weather permitted aerial resupply, our men lacked proper equipment, winter clothing, and enough ammunition to hold the line." The men slept in foxholes with temperatures reaching as low as zero in the nights. Stephen Ambrose described one particularly cold night: "They shivered through the night. They would lie down and drift off, only to be awakened by intense shivering… Most gave up on trying to sleep." The American soldiers in Bastogne were soon completely surrounded, but hung tough until finally General Patton's army arrived to break the siege. But even then there was no rest for the weary. Now the Americans went on the offensive and began to progressively drive the German army back toward their homeland.

By the time the war was over Wayne Sisk had seen war at its ugliest. He had been wounded multiple times, and he had killed many men. At times he had killed them one at a time with his M-1 rifle, and at other times he mowed them down in groups with a machine gun. At the war's end, his commander sent him and two others to apprehend a German General who had been in charge of a concentration camp. The CO had been so disgusted to see the conditions of the survivors of the camp he told the men to find the General and kill him (which was, of course, strictly against the rules of war). Sisk told later that he gave the man five minutes to get right with God before his execution. Wayne was no Christian at this point, but he apparently knew enough to know we need God before we leave this world. The general laughed and said there was no God, only Hitler. Wayne shot and killed him on the spot.

Transformed

After Wayne returned to the U. S. he found he could not adjust to civilian life. He described his life in those days as "trying to drink away the truckload of Krauts that I stopped in Holland and the die-hard Nazi that I went up into the Bavarian Alps and killed." One of his paratrooper buddies had told him that eventually all the killings that he did were going to jump into the bed with him, and he turned out to be prophetic. Sisk had nightmares as he slept and flashbacks during the days. He tried to ease his torment by drinking but found little relief. He was so unbearable his family could hardly stand him.

It was at this low point in his life that the Lord Jesus chose a most unlikely instrument to touch Wayne's heart and transform his life. He had been living at his mother's house, when his sister's daughter came into his room. She had apparently heard her parents talking about her uncle's problems and had some advice for him. The four year old girl told him that Jesus loved him and that she loved him as well. She told him if he would repent God would forgive him. Here are Wayne's own words, from a letter he wrote to Richard Winters: "That little girl got to me. I put her out of my room, told her to go to her Mommy. There and then I bowed my head on my Mother's old feather bed and repented and God forgave me for the war and all the other bad things I had done through the years. I was ordained in the latter part of 1949 into the ministry and believe me, Dick, I haven't whipped but one man since and he needed it. I have four children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren."

Minister of the gospel

To put it in contemporary jargon, Wayne Sisk got radically saved. He studied for the ministry, devoured the Bible, pastored a couple of churches, and preached in evangelistic meetings throughout the area. The nightmares stopped and Wayne began a new life in Christ. As with most Christians his life after finding Christ wasn't picture perfect. While in his forties he divorced after a troubled marriage and for a while lost his way, left the church, and began to drink again. But though he tried to turn from God, Jesus was faithful and kept His hand on his life. After a season of rebellion Wayne found himself drawn back to the Savior and was renewed. As he grew older he became a popular evangelist and a beloved Christian elder statesman in his community. A local doctor described him as always having a smile on his face, and even a glow. Wayne preached until almost the last year of his life. He kept a bench in his house that he called his altar, where he prayed. A list of prayer requests was nearby, and if you asked Wayne to pray for you, you could be sure he would lift you up before the throne of God at that altar. He was a man of great faith. When his daughter told him she needed to quit smoking he assured her not to worry about it. He would pray and have others to pray, and she would be free. She didn't have a single withdrawal symptom and has not smoked to this day.

In 1999 it was God's time for Wayne to make the final jump (to put it in paratrooper language). His daughter, Delcie, who loved her father dearly, described the scene through her tears. She told how, after being so weak he could not raise his arm to grab her by the hand, he suddenly lifted his arms toward heaven. The old soldier began to quote Scriptures and to pray the 23rd Psalm. After a while he put his hands down and was gone. He had come through his last battle and had prevailed. He had fought the good fight and kept the faith.

Who would have thought that a four year old girl could so transform the life of a hardened soldier! Of course it was not really the girl at all – it was the power that lies within the gospel of Jesus Christ that she shared, even in her simple way. A couple of thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes..." Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for our sins. Three days later He rose from the dead. Through faith in Him we can be forgiven and become children of God. These simple facts, when believed, have the power to change lives and eternal destinies, and to turn burned out men and women into useful instruments in the hands of Almighty God. Such is the power of the gospel of Christ, even when it comes forth from the lips of a child.


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