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Fighting in the ring, then in Pacific

Before graduating from South Park High School in 1940 and enlisting in the Marine Corps, Stanley M. Bolas was already a fighter.

The teenager from Buffalo's Kaisertown section had made a name for himself as a Golden Gloves boxer. He often won matches as a welterweight in local arenas -- Broadway Auditorium, Eagles Auditorium downtown and Fredro Hall on Clinton Street, to name a few.

But on Sept. 5, 1940, the boxing gloves would come off, and the teenager became a Marine.

Although America would not enter the Second World War until the bombing of Pearl Harbor 15 months later, Bolas was shipped to Iceland, where other Allied troops from Europe were stationed.

He stayed there from October 1941 to March 1942 but did not see battle, unless surviving savage winter weather qualifies. "The winds could hit 125 miles per hour, and the temperature, in some cases, was 40 below zero, which made it difficult to go outside to the latrine," Bolas recalled.

His stint in Iceland ended March 23, when he and his fellow Marines were packed up on a troop ship and sent back to the United States for their eventual journey to the Pacific.

The trip home was fraught with hazard.

"In our convoy, a German submarine was trying to sink the ships and did sink one with a torpedo," he said, "but the troop ship I was on just kept going."

A 1944 photograph of Stanley M. Bolas. (Photo courtesy of Stanley Bolas)

A member of the 22nd Regiment, 6th Marine Division, Bolas arrived in the Pacific on July 9, 1942. Unlike in Iceland, there was plenty of combat to go around.

He fought in the invasion of Eniwetok. Hundreds of Marines gave up their lives as they stormed the beachhead, but even more could have been killed if not for an alert Bolas, who discovered "a spider hole" packed with Japanese soldiers.

"It's a big hole covered with a tin plate that had a small hole on it that they used for breathing. I pulled the plate up and told my men from the squad to fire and plaster them with a grenade," Bolas said.

"I was later informed that if I hadn't spotted the spider hole and dispatched the six enemy soldiers, they would have emerged at night and killed Marines in foxholes."

In recognition of his alert actions, Sgt. Bolas was told by his platoon leader that he would be recommended for a field commission as a lieutenant.

"The inquiring officer looked at my background and saw I just had a high school education, and he told me they were only advancing those who had two-year college educations to second lieutenant, but he did compliment me," said Bolas, who never forgot that lesson on the importance of education. He eventually earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at Canisius College.

During his nearly 36 months in the Pacific, Bolas encountered other deadly enemies that did not have two legs and a rifle.

"I had what they call dengue fever, and it hurts your entire body. It lasts for about a week, and you wish you'd passed away. I also had filariasis [elephantiasis], which you get from consistent mosquito bites. My right arm swelled up."

That, however, was nothing compared with the sacrifice of his older brother, Carl. A master sergeant in the Army, he was killed in action on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. In addition, Bolas had three other brothers who fought in the war.

But it wasn't all hardship for the young Marine.

At one point in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, Bolas put his boxing skills back to work in order to entertain the troops. He climbed into a makeshift ring with another Marine who had training in the sport.

"We were on Wallis Island, and we boxed in front of most of the regiment," Bolas said. "I did win the fight."

Back home, he also had many victories in his climb up the career ladder. He joined the Buffalo Police Department and was eventually promoted to captain, scoring high on civil service exams along the way.

After leaving the police force in 1973, he was appointed commissioner of Erie County Central Police Services. After that, he started his own consulting business, specializing in advertising and promotions. Even at 88, he still manages a couple of accounts.

Bolas says that it's his children who keep him going. And like their father, they're high achievers. His daughter, Andrea, is a nurse, and his son, Michael, is an attorney and certified public accountant.

There also is the cherished memory of Eleanore, his beloved wife, who passed away in 1967.

His voice filled with emotion, he said, "She was just a wonderful, lovable wife."

***

Stanley M. Bolas, 88

• Hometown: Buffalo

• Residence: West Seneca

• Branch: Marine Corps

• Rank: Sergeant

• War zones: Europe, Pacific

• Years of service: September 1940 to December 1945

• Most prominent honors: European Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

• Specialties: Machine gunner and 37mm anti-aircraft gunner

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