IN?MEMORY… Remembering area war veterans

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.

With no end to the war in sight, 1942 drew to its close. An Evening OBSERVER article from October 1942 stated: “Seven leave here today with Ed Orcutt as acting corporal. The local men were Matthew J. Woloszyn, Edward S. Robinson, Edward J. Bernard, Horace D. Kaltenback, Edwin A. Hamernik and Joseph V. Worrell. Along with the seven Army recruits, there were also Navy and Marine recruits on the October Contingent. They included John K. Walker, Richard Lasecki, Gilbert W. Carpenter, Herbert Hall, Harold Thoms, William H. Connell, William Walters, G. Velka, Ralph Maslach, Edmund Szwejbka, Joseph Duino, Richard A. Kern, Forest Moser and Arthur Killian.”

During boot camp training, the Army had chosen Orcutt to become an Army Medic. Orcutt felt he was well suited for it, and he spent 16 weeks at Army Combat Medic school in Sam Houston, Texas. He was then given orders to head back east to New York City. Heading east meant only one thing for this young medic. He knew he would have to pack lots of cold weather clothing. Everyone leaving from the east coast was heading to Europe. While in New York City, Orcutt could not believe the number of soldiers who were waiting for ships to sail east. As he boarded his Naval transport, Orcutt couldn’t believe the masses of men and supplies that were placed on this 300 foot-long ship. He knew something big was happening.

Arriving in the European Theater, Orcutt received his orders to report to the eighth infantry, part of General Patton’s “Hell on Wheels” division. It wasn’t long before Orcutt boarded a U.S. Naval transport heading for one of the world’s largest land invasions. It was called “Operation Overlord,” the first landing of U.S. soldiers on enemy-held territory. Being involved in the first wave meant that many soldiers were wounded and killed. Performing the responsibilities of his position well earned Orcutt two Bronze Stars for his bravery in the line of duty.

While in France, advancing on an enemy machine gun nest, Orcutt was wounded. For this, he was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action by enemy forces against the United States. After being treated in a military hospital in England, Orcutt returned to duty with his old unit to wait for the war in Europe to be over.

Orcutt knew that the end of war didn’t necessarily mean he could go home. He wouldn’t be on the list of soldiers going back to the United States, because men were needed for the occupation of Berlin to restore peace and order. The country was beautiful, even after being ravaged by war, and being assigned to Germany post-war wasn’t so bad for Orcutt. All was going relatively well, when Orcutt was called into the commanding officer’s quarters. He was told that he would be going back to the United States to be assigned to an infantry division that was being assembled to form the largest land invasion yet – larger than the invasion of Normandy. This time, they would invade Japan’s mainland. Orcutt realized that, while it was a nonviolent occupation, being a combat medic meant that he was ready and available to be sent off to the next battle in another part of the world.

Washington, D.C. knew that the price to pay for fighting Japan on their home turf would be high. They knew this from experience in the Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Iwo Jima. The cost of taking Japan’s homeland was estimated so high that in August 1945 Congress passed a budget to cover the cost of making an additional 450,000 Purple Hearts to give to the future wounded veterans and to the families of the dead. The medals were ordered and made, and are still being handed out today.

While on a short leave in July 1945, Orcutt married his sweetheart, Marion Woelfle. They would go on to have four children, Susan, David, Charles and Lisa, eight grandchildren, Nicole, Leigh, Benjamin, Kimberly, Ashley, Katelyn, Ian and Kyle and three great-grandchildren, Abby, Emma and Asa. The newlyweds didn’t have much time to celebrate that summer, though. Orcutt had to return to his unit to train for the upcoming attack on Japan.

While training for combat on the west coast, news came that the United States had dropped two nuclear bombs on mainland Japan, effectively ending the war. The next 30 days that Orcutt spent aboard a ship sailing back home were a piece of cake compared to the fate that would have awaited him on mainland Japan. He was then placed on a military transport train and taken back home to Dunkirk. Along the way, the train stopped in every city that had a train station, dropping off soldiers returning to their families and loved ones. Orcutt recalled that there were sometimes three or four stops per hour, meaning 40 to 60 minute waits for new passengers. All of the waiting was worth it when Orcutt heard the words “Next stop, Dunkirk!”

Returning to his new bride, Orcutt started once again working for his father-in-law. It wasn’t long before a second funeral home was purchased. Mabel’s father eventually passed away, and Orcutt began running both funeral parlors for his mother-in-law, Blanch. When she passed away, Orcutt took over the business and started running it as the Orcutt Funeral Home.

Along with his job running the family business, Orcutt stayed active in the community. He served as a member of the Dunkirk Housing Authority, being chairman from 1966-1967 and treasurer from 1972-1975. He was a charter member of the Jr. Chamber of Commerce; a member of the former Community Chest, serving as its president; he was a member, president and chairman of the Dunkirk Chamber of Commerce; a member of the Red Cross of Chautauqua County; and a long-time member of the Chautauqua Rotary Club, serving as president from 1965-1966. He was a winner of the Paul Harris Fellow Award; a member of the board of directors of Lake Shore Savings; the chairman of the Loan Committee; a member of Elizabeth Ann Seton Church; Shorewood Country Club; Dunkirk Elks; Knights of Columbus; and the National and New York Funeral Directors associations.

Orcutt may mostly be known for running a funeral home and for being one of the area’s most respected businessmen, but it should also be known that he went to war and undertook the responsibility of saving the lives or trying to save those of his wounded and falling comrades. He was ready to lay down his own life to save the lives of men he had never before met. Countless soldiers owe their lives to Orcutt and his quick thinking and first aid on the battlefield.

Like so many others, Orcutt performed his duties honorably, serving his country in her time of need. A true American hero, Orcutt returned home, and instead of living inside his head with the memories of war, he chose to be present for his family and to carry on with the life that he was still lucky enough to have.

It is time for people to know what kind of man Ed Orcutt really is. It is time for people to know how courageous he was on the battlefields of Europe. His is one story out of many in our area that deserve to be told. Ed Orcutt is our hero of the week – a hero we lost on May 4, 1997.