For decades on his farm in the Big Horn Basin, Frank Zavorka slept in a separate bed from his wife, Ruth.

He worried he'd hurt her during one of his violent nightmares.

That's what happens, he guesses, after nine months of marching across Europe. Nine months of shooting, freezing and digging.

The nightmares lingered, worsening as he got older, until years ago he found a support group in Cheyenne with other veterans who heard screaming in the night. There he told stories he'd kept inside for so many years.

The Army drafted Zavorka from his family farm in Yoder when he was 18. They sent him to Wales to join the 75th Infantry Division, among the youngest in the European theatre.

After two weeks in Ranger training he went to Belgium to join the 106th Division days before the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. By the time they arrived, German troops had decimated the 106th and were moving forward.

"Gosh, we were just kids, you know? We grew up in an awful big hurry," he said.

Artillery hit for 30 days and then Germans attacked on land. The Americans were outnumbered 10 to 1, but their semi-automatic rifles out-powered the Germans' bolt action.

His company commander ordered the men not to surrender. No matter what.

The commander heard about another company that gave up only to be loaded in a truck, driven into the countryside and shot.

Don't give up for crying out loud, the commander said. You're going to get killed anyway.

They fought, and when they weren't shooting, they were digging. None of the men were prepared for 40 below zero temperatures and feet of snow. To stay warm, Zavorka dug holes. He'd dig down under the frozen ground, sometimes so deep he could barely climb out.

The men who didn't dig, who sat down to rest, were the men who didn't make it through the night. When supplies didn't come they gnawed on tree roots and mixed bouillon cubes into water in their helmets for soup.

Less than two months later, the Battle of the Bulge ended. Zavorka rose from a private first class to a staff sergeant as they moved through Belgium. By then there weren't even enough men in his original company of 248 to make a platoon of 48.

But they marched on.

Zavorka doesn't remember most of the town names. They all ran together. But it wasn't the town names he needed to talk about.

Working their way toward Germany, Zavorka's division invaded a town at night. Artillery shells launched Zavorka into the air. He woke in the morning alone. His company had moved on in the night. He couldn't move.

His right arm and leg were frozen solid in a mud puddle.

Zavorka loosened the bayonet from the end of his rifle and chiseled the ice from around his body.

He found his division and started shooting again.

In another town, with another forgotten name, he remembers the fighting was so fierce the river water ran red with blood. Both German and American bodies littered the shores.

"Somehow we always managed to get replacements," he said.

One of the replacements was a man in his 40s, far older than any of the 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds in Zavorka's company.

The man had been in a gang fight in Chicago and killed some men. A judge ordered him to life in prison or hazardous duty. He chose war and ended up alongside Zavorka.

"Us guys looked at each other and we asked, 'What the hell did we do wrong?'"

Zavorka has learned to talk about even the hardest times, like watching his group of friends slowly dwindled.

Three days before the war ended, the last of his four original buddies died.

"He came over and said, 'Hey, Frank, looks like a few more days and we will go home.'"

Then the artillery shells started again.

He stopped making friends after that.

By the end of the war, nine months, two showers and a Bronze Star after Zavorka started marching, his company was sent home. He stayed for another six months, ordered to level roads for troop trucks and dig ditches for garbage.

When it was his time to leave, the Army asked him to stay. They would raise his rank if he would collect dead soldiers and bring their bodies back.

No thanks, he told them, he'd seen enough death.

He wanted to come home to Wyoming and marry Ruth.

Zavorka still meets with that group in Cheyenne even as his nightmares have faded. Only three of the initial 24 members are still alive.

Staff Sgt. Frank Zavorka, Cheyenne

Age: 85

Division: 75th Infantry Division

War Front: Europe, Battle of the Bulge

Family: Married 60 years before his wife's death four years ago; four children

His words: "The support asked us if we wanted long johns. I got some. Some guys said they wouldn't be caught dead in them. And they were. They froze."

On the Web: Watch more of Zavorka's story and see profiles of other veterans at www.trib.com/honor.

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