August “Gus” Steidl proved that the eve of your 91st birthday isn’t too late to experience something for the first time. The New Jersey native and World War II veteran attended his first professional sports event as the Devils hosted the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night. Steidl was honored as Hero of the Game as the Devils paid tribute to the nation’s service men and women on Military Appreciation Night.
But 90 years without seeing a sporting event? The self-described sports fan just never got around to it, citing his post-service job as a truck driver, and the thousands of miles of traveled, as the main reason for keeping him outside the gates.
Steidl was drafted in February 1944, and served in the Second World War under General George S. Patton in the European theater from August 1944 through the end of the war. After the conclusion of hostilities, he stayed until December 1948 as the allies worked to rebuild Germany.
“I joined the front lines in September 1944, outside of Nancy, France, and from there, we sort of marched across Europe,” Steidl said. His journey took him into Frankfurt, and Hanover, Germany, before reaching then-Czechoslovakia on May 5, 1945.
“Three days later, we heard the war was over.” As the allies moved to rebuild, Steidl was stationed in Germany, “about 55 minutes north of Frankfurt.” Part of his responsibility was to transport civilians with the USO to shows.
“I was in charge of the convoy that took them from town to town because I was pretty good at road mapping and getting from place to place the best way.”
Steidl was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in December 1944 and the Presidential Unit Citation with his company for its actions in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Service runs in the family. Steidl’s father, August Steidl, served in World War I with the U.S. Army’s 1st Division, Company A, 26th Infantry, serving as a personal body guard for Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and earned the Distinguished Service Cross from the US Army, the Croix de Guerre with palm, and the Medaille Militaire from the French Republic. Steidl’s brother, Louis, was a member of the Navy’s Construction Battalion in Alaska during WWII.
Since his discharge, Steidl is on his third career. For the last 21 years, he has worked as a school custodian. After retiring for a second time, Steidl was offered his current job by a neighbor when he expressed interest in working again.
“When I first came home from the Army, I was employed by Western Electric. I met my wife there and got married in July of 1949.” In the mid 1950’s Steidl left Western Electric to join a trucking company, traveling up and down the East Coast for 30 years.
The recognition, Steidl said, was never a factor in his service. “I never thought about honors or anything like that.” It was about doing what he was told, helping his fellow troops and making it through the war.
Steidl’s in-game salute was part of a night full of recognitions and celebrations of the men and women that serve in the military. Two children, both part of Defending the Blue Line, an organization that helps military families cover the cost of hockey gear, fees and related activities, assisted NJ Devil in welcoming Devils players during pre-game introductions, and United States Marine Corps Sergeant Ret. John Kelly dropped the ceremonial puck. United States Coast Guard veteran Kristine Rommel performed the National Anthem, flanked by the New York Joint Services Honor Guard presenting the flags and representing each branch of the military.
The team raised funds throughout the night for Defending the Blue Line. At the Devils Den team store and concessions, fans had the opportunity to make a donation to the cause. Current and retired military personnel received 50 percent off the cost of tickets for the night, and 20 percent off select tickets through the rest of the season. At the Devils Den, members of the military received a 10 percent discount with identification.
The New Jersey Devils also wore camo jerseys during pregame warm-ups, which after the game were signed and available through an online auction at NewJerseyDevils.com/Military. The team also used special Military Appreciation Night pucks, which were signed and up for auction as well, further benefiting Defending the Blue Line. The jerseys and pucks will be available to bid on until November 18 at 7 p.m.