Frank Stoltz was born Feb. 10, 1924 in Solen, North Dakota to Peter and Margaret Stoltz. He died peacefully Monday morning, Nov. 9, 2020 at Holy Rosary Healthcare from aspiration pneumonia at the age of 96.
As happened with so many young boys during the early 1930s, Frank ran away from home at the age of 12. At the age of 16 he joined the NYA (National Youth Administration) program in Bismarck, ND where he learned his welding skills. From there he arrived at the Seattle shipyards to work. The following year he enlisted in the Army Air Corps to fly.
SSgt. Frank Stoltz, of Miles City, Montana served during World War II with the 44th Bomb Group, 506th Bomb Squadron attached to the 8th Air Force. Following his US Army Air Corps induction April, 1943, Frank completed Flight Training at Lowry Field, Colorado; Davis-Mounthan Field, Arizona; and Tyndall field, Florida, followed by Aerial Gunner School.
He was deployed to England in May, 1944 where his assignment was top turret gunner and back-up pilot on a B-24 Liberator bomber. His duties also included the dangerous task of arming the bombs once the aircraft reached enemy territory. His aircraft bombed enemy targets in Germany and France in support of the Normandy invasion.
On June 21, 1944 during his 12th bombing mission, his plane was shot down over Germany. Frank and his crew bailed out of the plane - in his words 'hit the silks.' He was immediately captured near Wetzler, Germany by the SS. Because of his fluency in speaking German, he became the translator between his fellow crew members and the Germans. He was transferred to a new Prisoner of War (POW) camp northwest of Auschwitz, Poland. He was imprisoned for nearly a year and then survived the 86-day, 600-mile Black Death March at war's end.
Frank was discharged at the Sioux Falls Army Air Force Separation Center in South Dakota in October, 1945 His most significant decorations among others include the Purple Heart, Air Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal. In June, 2008 Frank was awarded the highest honor from the nation of France - the French Legion Medal of Honor.
Frank arrived in Miles City after his discharge to be with his mother. He worked for Love Motor Company. While working there, he met his future bride on the steps of the Presbyterian Church. The car he was driving had no doors as Pat always recalled. He and Patricia married May 15, 1948 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and began their lasting, loving bond with each other for over sixty six years.
The original Frank's Body Shop opened in 1955 located on North 11th. As the business grew the shop moved to the corner of 7th and Palmer. Frank was always looking for ways to sell and enhance the services of the shop and this included Jeeps, Ski-Doos and Bellanca aircraft. He even found time to become half owner of Leon Park for a few years. In 1973/74 Frank built the current shop located on Haynes Avenue. He remained active with his business through 2016.
He was inducted into the Montana Tow Truck Hall of Fame in 2002. He maintained his Montana pilot's license and continued to fly until the age of 90. Frank loved to fly! He was inducted into the Knights of Columbus 1st, 2nd and 3rd Degrees February of 1951. He was then inducted into the 4th Degree December 1962. He is a past president of the Montana AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association). He was also very active in the EX-POW (American Ex-Prisoners of War) National Organization.
August 5, 2016 Frank was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award presented by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Frank and his wife, Patricia, were married for over 66 years. Pat passed away April, 2015. He is survived by his five children: Melissa (Don), Deborah, Tim (Carol), Danny (Nancy) and Patrick; 11 grandchildren; 24 great grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren.
Visitation will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Stevenson & Sons Funeral Home in Miles City. Military Graveside Funeral Services will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 at 11 a.m. at the Custer County Cemetery in Miles City. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting: www.stevensonandsons.com.
Donations in Frank's memory can be made to the MCC automotive program; our local VFW Club or Wake Up and Lace Up.