June 30, 2023 – West Bend, WI – On a weekend leading up to July 4 when Americans celebrate their freedom comes word that the community of West Bend has lost another mighty leader.
World War II veteran Joe Zadra of West Bend died at 11 a.m. Friday, June 30, 2023 at the age of 100.
His son Nolan passed along the news. “It went very fast and the people at hospice didn’t expect it would be this quick…. he just got in here last night.”
Zadra had been suffering bladder cancer; he would have turned 101 on July 22, 2023.
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Zadra had a life fit for a Hallmark movie. He left the small farming community of Schofield, Wi, enlisted in the military, served in the U.S. Army from 1942-46, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, eloped and married his college sweetheart, and went onto lead the Gehl Co. for decades. It was 2022 when Joe and Edna, 100, renewed their wedding vows as a celebration of their 75th wedding anniversary.
In 2022, Joe also served as the Grand Marshall for the West Bend Memorial Day Parade. He wore his uniform jacket from his service in the U.S. Army.
“The community has lost a great man,” said John Kleinmaus, commander of VFW Post 1393 in West Bend. “He was very much involved, a great veteran, served at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. He was a good friend and certainly will be missed.”
Kleinmaus said it was late last year when Zadra told him he wanted the West Bend Color Guard at his funeral when he is buried at the veterans cemetery in Chippewa Falls, WI.
Zadra and his wife were fixtures at local events, participating in celebrations to honor veterans including supporting the local VFW brat fry.
Zadra was often referred to as a “hero” for his service to his country and commitment to paying his respects to honor those who paid the ultimate price.
“Joe was a real leader who did more for this community than anyone will ever realize,” said veteran and former alderman Terry Vrana. “He just did it automatically and didn’t think twice about it.”
Vrana praised Zadra for his commitment to fundraising for Veterans Plaza at Fifth Avenue and Poplar Street in West Bend. “We received all the benefits of his knowledge and his love for everybody, and he was a huge help and headed up the fundraising,” said Vrana. “He knew everybody and who could say ‘no’ to Joe. When you look at Veterans Plaza you have to think of Joe.”
According to neighbors and former employees at the Gehl Co., Zadra made an impact on everyone.
During a celebration in 2022, the Zadra children highlighted some of the entries from Edna Zadra’s scrapbook, as the kids found an itinerary from their wedding day including what they had for ‘dinner.’
Written in cursive with a red pen Edna detailed having their picture taken at 11:30 a.m. and dinner at 12 p.m. at Park Hotel. The menu started with Manhattans and shrimp cocktail, hors d’oeuvres, Southern fried chicken, potatoes and vegetables, coffee, wedding cake and ice cream and after dinner drinks.
“On our way… approximately 2 p.m.” was the script as the couple headed for their honeymoon at Cave of the Mounds.
Earlier this year, West Bend lost another WWII veteran in Allan Kieckhafer, 99, who died January 25, 2023.
Joe Zadra served in the U.S. Army from 1942-46 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge He was an intelligence officer in the 19th Tank Battalion of the famous 9th Armored Division. Zadra’s unit raced to safeguard the road to Bastogne, Belgium, on the southern flank of the battle.
Zadra survived the Battle of the Bulge but caught pneumonia and was taken to an aid station on Dec. 30, 1944. He recuperated in a hospital for a couple of weeks and returned to his unit as they proceeded to cross the Rhein at the Remagen Bridge and then fight across Germany to Czechoslovakia.
Joe Zadra, who grew up in Schofield, WI, spent decades working for the Gehl Co.