Skip Navigation
Stanislaw Frank Drwall

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Stanislaw Frank Drwall

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

General Douglas MacArthur

Stanislaw (Stanley is the anglicized form) Frank Drwall was born on August 5, 1916, in Tucker County, West Virginia. He was the second of six children, and the oldest son, of Frank and Mary Drwall, who were Polish immigrants. Frank was a coal miner, employed by the Cumberland Coal Company, a subsidiary of the now-defunct Davis Coal and Coke Company. His three sisters were Anna, Helena, and Evelyn, and his younger brothers were Edwin and Wladyslaw (anglicized as Walter).

Frank Drwall, Stanley's father, was born in Miejsce Piastowe, in Poland, in 1892, and came to the United States in 1913. He married Mary Keziel, from Targowiska, before or in 1915. For some period of time between September 1920 and July 4, 1923, the Drwalls lived in Poland. They joined about a third of Polish immigrants who returned home during this time period, most likely to follow through on a common ambition among Polish immigrants: To one day own land in their own country. This must have fallen through, given that they returned to America to stay. They had one more child, Walter (also killed in World War II) in Poland, in November 1922.

The Drwalls lived for some time in what is now Thomas, Tucker County. They worked about three miles away for the Cumberland Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of Davis Coal and Coke based in what is now Douglas (then Albert). Both of these places were founded as coal towns, which meant that they were places for employees of a coal company to live in. At its peak, Davis Coal and Coke was one of the largest and most successful coal companies in the world. It attracted thousands of Eastern and Southern European immigrants to the region between 1890 and 1920, among them the Drwalls. By 1930, Poles represented the third-largest immigrant group in West Virginia. Davis Coal and Coke closed, and Cumberland Coal was purchased by Contura Energy by the 1950s, but Polish Americans are still a noticeable minority in West Virginia.

Little can be said for certain of Stanley's life from 1923-1936. What is known for certain is that he, like all of his siblings, completed their education up to the fourth year of high school (a senior). Considering the fact that their parents had only had a rudimentary education in Poland, one can surmise that they were one of many families of immigrants working to better themselves. Based on a birth date of 1916, Stanley graduated in the ballpark of 1934-1935. He is also known to have worked in the mines for some period of time. This would have been a matter of necessity, for by this time the Great Depression was in full swing, and West Virginia was hit very hard. By 1936, he was in Baltimore, Maryland. On June 10, 1936, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. By October of 1936, he was stationed on the USS Oklahoma in the Pacific, where he would stay for the rest of his life, except for a hiatus in San Diego, most likely to receive additional training. He was 20 years old.

First commissioned in 1916, the USS Oklahoma first saw action protecting American merchant ships from German U-boats as part of the convoy system. It was part of the Nevada class of battleships, the first standardized class of dreadnought ships built by the U.S. Navy. The ship was also fitted out with anti-aircraft guns during the war, a hallmark of the increased prevalence of aircraft in combat. During the period from 1927-1929, it was extensively renovated and modernized in Philadelphia. In 1936, the ship helped rescue American civilians from the recently begun Spanish Civil War. It was after this that the ship was transferred to the Pacific fleet, where it was stationed with most of the fleet at the Hawaiian naval base at Pearl Harbor.

As a Navy recruit, Stanley would have started from the very bottom. From the rank of seaman recruit (then third class), by March 1939 he was a seaman first class. He retained this rank up through November 1940. In the census of that year, he is recorded as living in San Diego, California, in a boarding house with 12 other naval servicemen, with a salary of $648 (adjusting for inflation, about $11,500) per year. By December, however, Stanley had become a patternmaker. What he and others in his line of work would do involved the usage of blueprints, or patterns, to help repair and construct tools, crates, or other essential supplies. Patternmakers were mostly repairmen, similar to modern engineers.

By this time, of course, World War II was in full swing. Stanley's brother, Edwin, enlisted in May 1939, and young Walter signed up for the draft in 1942 (after Stanley had been killed), and Walter too ended up in the Navy. The United States had not declared war yet in 1941, but Stanley's ship in the Pacific, the USS Oklahoma, was moved to Pearl Harbor after extensive repairs:a fateful mistake, it turned out, and one that cost Stanley his life. On December 7, 1941, the Oklahoma was sunk as part of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The USS Oklahoma at anchor. U.S. Navy photo #NH 44401


The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific occupies much of Punchbowl Crater. Photo by Jiang, public domain.

Early in the morning, the Oklahoma was struck with five torpedoes within minutes of each other. The ship soon capsized, but many men went onto a nearby battleship, the USS Maryland, to defend against the incoming Japanese bombers. Stanley was one of 429 men who went down with the ship, and one of eight West Virginians. Another 32 men were rescued after being trapped in the hull for hours. Stanley's remains were unidentifiable and were buried as such in a local cemetery. In 1950, his remains were transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is a cemetery for all American soldiers killed in the Pacific Theater, in Honolulu. They were placed in a section set aside for the missing.

Stanley was survived by seven members of his immediate family. Both Edwin and Walter served in World War II, but Walter was killed in 1943 on the Western Front. Edwin survived the war and also served in the Korean War, as late as 1953. Edwin lived until 2000. Stanley's father Frank died in 1957, aged 64; his mother Mary died in 1993, at the ripe old age of 98. His three sisters, Evelyn, Helena, and Anna had several children between them. Evelyn died in 2005, Helen died in 2003, and Anna died in 2007. As for his ship, the Oklahoma, it was salvaged in 1943 but was too damaged to be effectively repaired. Most of its armaments were removed as scrap metal in 1944. Three years later, on its journey to the San Francisco scrapyard, the hulk of the Oklahoma sank. Nobody knows exactly where it is today.

Bibliographic note: Many of the details in this biography were obtained through a search for Stanislaw Drwall conducted on

Article prepared by Walker Combs and LeRoy Rashid, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U. S. History
March 2018


Stanislaw Frank Drwall

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History