Stefan “Pappy” Mazak, 1926–1968

Stefan Mazak on weekend pass, Ft. Bragg, NC 1955 — Photo by: Jim Reece, Tom Reece and Rosa King of NC

SFC Stefan Mazak, 42, was killed in action on April 18, 1968 in Vietnam (“Officially”) while leading a small contingent of special and indigenous forces during an evening recon patrol into known enemy territory. As they were placing explosive charges (Claymore variant), the patrol encountered enemy forces and engaged in close quarters combat. According to the citation that accompanied his posthumous award of the Silver Star, Mazak, after being wounded and refusing treatment, led his team in a “furious counterattack” that forced the enemy to temporarily withdraw. Then, reads the citation, “SFC Mazak directed [his teammates] to take cover and attacked the enemy alone”. Stefan Mazak or “Pappy” as he was affectionately called by his fellow members of the special forces, was mortally wounded during his solo charge at the enemy. His surviving team members responded with a ferocious assault that repelled the enemy sufficiently to retrieve Mazak’s body and withdraw to safety.

While the heroic actions that preceded his death may seem remarkable — a 42 year old, wounded special forces soldier charging the enemy alone — they are not surprising when viewed in the greater context of Stefan Mazak’s military career. This is a man who fled his home in communist Czechoslovakia as a young adult to join the Maquis resistance fighters in occupied France during World War II. Following WWII, he fought with the French Foreign Legion before being enticed by US officials to move to America and help with the development of a new military special operations unit, the 10th Special Forces Group (10th SFG), based in Fort Carson, Colorado.

It’s important to note that a 9th SFG, 8th SFG or any other SFG, did not exist in the US during the early 1950s. Our nation’s first special forces unit was named the “10th” SFG as a propaganda ploy to fool the Russians into believing that nine other units were already deployed. The 10th was the first US Special Forces Group, and Stefan Mazak would be recruited in 1960 to join the first covert US special forces mission; to rescue American missionaries from murderous rebels in remote areas of the Belgian Congo jungle.

The team leader of the secret mission, First Lieutenant Sully Fontaine, a Belgian member of the 10th SFG who was recently inducted into the Special Forces Hall of Fame, recruited Stefan Mazak to join his team. In the book, Slaver’s Wheel: A Green Beret’s True Story of His CLASSIFIED MISSION in the Congo, Fontaine recounts the story of a tense standoff with a rebel unit during the evacuation of a village near a remote airstrip in Gwendje. Fontaine, after reaching the evacuees and learning that they had been brutally beaten and raped and were in desperate need of medical attention, radioed Mazak, who had remained at the airstrip to secure the plane, and directed him to call in Belgian Paratroopers for assistance. Shortly thereafter, 1st Lt. Fontaine was surrounded by 50 or more gun toting rebels. As they approached, Fontaine identified their leader and, after requesting a chance to talk with him, pulled the pin of a hand grenade and gripped the lever while threatening the group that he would take out their leader and others with him if attacked.

After learning of his team leader’s predicament, Mazak knew he could not wait for help and directed the pilot to take-off and make an emergency bush landing out of sight of the rebels so he could launch a surprise assault — by himself. After slogging a few hundred meters through the dense jungle foliage, the 5'-2" Masak emerged from the bush covered in grime, holding submachine guns in each hand, screaming profanities in French and firing bursts of ammo in the air as he charged toward them. As Fontaine recalled, the rebels were so startled and frightened by the sight of Mazak that they immediately fled the scene without firing a shot. After Belgian support forces arrived, they were able to evacuate the severely injured villagers to awaiting medical teams. During their 9 days in the Congo, Fontaine, Mazak and the other team members evacuated 239 men, women and children from hostile territory without a single casualty.

By all accounts, Stefan Mazac was a humble but serious man who was fluent in four languages but spoke very few words. When he did speak, everyone payed attention. Medal of Honor recipient, Roy P. Benavidez, in his book titled “Medal of Honor: One Man’s Journey from Poverty and Prejudice” recalled his first exposure to “Pappy” during a training session at Bragg. Benavidez’s instructor, who after reciting a brief summary of Mazak’s military history and accomplishments, extended “the greatest compliment he could muster” as Pappy humbly rose from his chair; “Detail face Sergeant Mazak. Present arms! Order arms!”

The instructor then asked Mazak “if he would honor the group with some comments or reflections”. Benavidez remarked that it was extremely difficult to coax Pappy to speak and that he only agreed after the other soldiers in the room pleaded with him. After apologizing for his poor English, Pappy offered the following words to the group, for which Benavidez asserts he “shall never forget”;

“We in this room are all men who believe that actions speak louder then words. If I can impart anything from my life as a soldier it is this: There are only two types of warrior in this world. Those that serve tyrants and those that serve free men. I have chosen to serve free men, and if we as warriors serve free men, we must love freedom more than we love our own lives. It is a simple philosophy but one that has served me well in life.” — Sergeant First Class Stefan Mazak
Stefan Mazak on weekend pass, Ft. Bragg, NC 1955 — Photo by: Jim Reece, Tom Reece and Rosa King of NC

SFC Stefan Mazak

Birth: Mar. 23, 1926, Dolbe-Sanie, Czech Republic

Death: Apr. 18, 1968, Vietnam

Residence: Washington, DC, and Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Wife: Mrs Hilde C. Mazak, Deceased (1923–1993)

Service at Time of Death: Detachment-B-56(Project SIGMA), Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, Special Operations Group, 5th Special Forces Group, USARV.

Awards:

The Silver Star, Posthumously 
The Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device with One Oak Leaf Cluster
The Combat Infantryman’s Badge(CIB 2nd Award)
The Purple Heart Medal for combat wounds
The Army Commendation Medal -‘V’ Device for Valor- One Oak Leaf Cluster 
The Army Good Conduct Medal with Six Devices 
The Army of Occupation Medal 
The Korean Service Medal
The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with One Device 
The Vietnam Service Medal with One Device
The Vietnam Campaign Medal 
The Vietnamese Gallantry Cross Unit Citation 
The Vietnamese Gallantry Cross Individual Citation 
Korean Presidential Unit Citation 
Vietnamese Military Merit Medal 
French Croix De Guerre WW2 
United Nations Medal 
Vietnam Technical Service 2nd Class Award
Republic of Vietnam War Service Medal 
Republic Of Korea War Service Medal 
French National Defense Medal Bronze 
French National Defense Medal Silver 
Master Parachutist Wings
France Jump Wings.