In Memory: Remembering area war veterans

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

Many wars have been fought for many different reasons. Some will say that we don’t need wars. There always is a way to prevent a war. That sounds good but as most will agree, World War II was a war that had to be fought.

It is an honor for me to do stories on World War II veterans. Most families only have a few papers that were handed down in a box or an envelope tucked away in a closet or bedroom chest. Some will come across these papers and will usually find that most things on the paperwork don’t make sense or are only partial words. Twenty years ago, it may have taken months or years to complete a World War II Veteran’s story. Today there is access to many military units’ chronological records. I’m limited on what I was presented on Corporal Ignatius Olewski’s military life. I was able, by the paperwork I was given, to track down the last two-and-a-half months of his unit’s military participation in the D Day landings of June 6, 1944 to his death on Aug. 29, 1944.

It was June 6, 1944. It was called the largest invasion in history. It would go down in history as D-Day. The Allied Forces landed in major force to liberate the people of all occupied areas under German control. The estimates of Allied losses were predicted to be in double digits. Each and every Allied serviceman knew his chances of living through the invasion were that two out of every 10 would be killed or wounded in action. With the odds against them, they all boarded those LSTs, Higgins boats and ATVs and were ready to put their life on the line to protect that soldier standing next to them.

For Ignatius, it was no different. His unit, the 115th, boarded those landing craft vessels at 6:30 a.m. and landed on Omaha Beach in the first wave. The first wave was the units that were the very first to land on occupied territory. Their mission was to secure the beach so heavier equipment like tanks, jeeps, medical equipment and supplies could land safely to support the troops so they could move further inland. Being in the first wave meant more dead and wounded. With the end of the day came a secure beach. Along with that were rows and rows of dead Americans from the 115th. All those lives all given so fast. After the dead were loaded on LSTs, the 115th went on and started their mission to help support units of the advancement toward Berlin.

Surviving D-Day was quite a feat. To some, they felt that the worst was over. It wasn’t long before they realized that there were a lot more days of fighting ahead. They were now fighting on the enemy’s soil. Their job was to push the Germans back to Germany and put a stop to this war. As the days passed, the 115th pushed on and helped liberate each and every town on their advancement to the Rhineland. While on the move, Ignatius was able to get a telegram off to his mother.

The day was Aug. 21, 1944. Because of the security, he couldn’t say where he was or what he may have been doing. All he could tell her was “not to worry.” Eight days later, this brave soldier paid the ultimate price one pays while in the service of his country.

Here is a story of a veteran, lost almost 70 years ago. Seven decades and we get the chance to at least know what it may have felt like to his family. There are probably no friends living today that may have been close to Ignatius. There are no children of this veteran and there was no wife. All this was lost when he was never given a chance to live and enjoy a full life. This is why we as a society need to take time to honor these fallen heroes. So many young men from World War II that were lost in their young years, and all we have are the grave stones we place a flag on each Memorial Day. We need to go back and find these young men who now rest in cemeteries, who after their burials only see the rewards of flowers placed by family members. Many of them in our cemeteries have never had their stories told.

For Ignatius Olewski and for all those young World War II veterans who gave up their lives, were just buried, and never had their stories told, I salute you. I wish I could find each and every one of you so your story could be told.

For Ignatius Olewski, I salute you. You are a real hero, and our hero of the week.