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Higgins presents Purple Heart to family of WWI veteran Walter Rydzewski for battle injuries received 100 years ago

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Mon, Oct 15th 2018 11:55 am
WNY soldier who lost his life following injuries in WWI's deadliest battle honored
As shown, Congressman Brian Higgins was joined by New York State Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, Village of Depew Trustee Audrey Hamernick and local veterans, including Depew American Legion Post 1528 and Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 187, to present the family of Private Walter Rydzewski with the Purple Heart and other medals earned 100 years ago, during World War I.
"A century ago, Private Rydzewski suffered critical wounds in service to this country and ultimately lost his life because of it," Higgins said. "It is never too late to say thank you to our veterans. It is our honor to do that today as we present his family with a lasting expression of gratitude from the nation he faithfully served."
Wallace said, "It's an honor to be with Private Rydzewski's family on the anniversary of his injury as we remember and provide this long-overdue recognition of his service and sacrifice. Private Rydzewski fought heroically and was injured during the critical Meuse-Argonne Campaign. The sacrifice he and his fellow service members made led to victory in World War I. Today we honor his service and share in his family's pride as we express our deepest gratitude to for his life and legacy."
Depew Mayor Jesee Nikonowicz added, "I am sorry that I am unable to be with my brother veterans on this day as we honor a fallen comrade. We are all proud that Pvt. Rydzewski is finally getting the recognition he earned and deserves. We share the joy of the Rydzewski, Sypniewski and Wienckowski families and wish you all well on this momentous occasion."
Born in Poland in 1893, Rydzewski immigrated to the City of Buffalo with his family as a teenager. On Sept. 26, 1917, at the age of 24, he enlisted in the United States Army to serve during World War I. On Nov. 11, 1917, Rydzewski was assigned to Co. "G" 309th Infantry. Several months later, he boarded the RMS Mauretania in New York City, landing in France where he was reassigned to Co. "H", 2nd Battalion, 326th Infantry on April 19, 1918.
In France, Rydzewski first fought in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, the only offensive battle launched solely by the U.S. Army during World War I. The battle lasted from Sept. 12-15, 1918, and resulted in an Allied victory.
Rydzewski later fought in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, which began Sept. 26. It was the largest battle ever fought by U.S. forces, involving 1.2 million American soldiers and led to an armistice that ended World War I. However, this victory for the Allied Forces came at a heavy cost, with 26,000 Americans dead and another 95,000 injured.
Unfortunately, among the soldiers injured was Rydzewski, who was shot in his upper left chest and severely wounded on Oct. 14, less than a month before the war ended on Nov. 11. Rydzewski was sent back to the U.S. along with other wounded soldiers via the USS Orizaba on March 25, 1919, with a bullet still lodged below his heart.
After returning home, Rydzewski worked in a local automobile plant. In 1920, he married Loretta Sypniewski. The couple settled in Lancaster and had a child, Irene Lorraine Rydzewski.
Rydzewski had complications associated with his battle wound, which landed him in the hospital for emergency surgery. He died during surgery, on Oct. 29, 1923, at just 30 years old. His death certificate states he died due to gangrene to his lungs and diaphragm, as well as a secondary causes related to the gunshot wound he took in Paris. He is buried in St. Stanislaus Cemetery in Cheektowaga.
Irene Lorraine Rydzewski married Henry Wienckowski and they had three children: Barbara, Gerald and Conrad. Wienckowski operated Hank's Dunlop Tire Center on Central Avenue in the Village of Lancaster and later sold the business and worked for the New York State Department of Transportation until his retirement. He was a member of Central Hose Co. No. 4 and served as an assistant fire chief of the Depew Fire Department. He was elected as a village trustee in 1952 and served for 28 years. He also served as deputy mayor for 12 years under Mayor John Domino.
Rydzewski's grandson, Gerald Wienckowski, an honorably discharged U.S. Army officer himself, recently discovered his grandfather was wounded in France and never received his Purple Heart. He reached out to Higgins' office to ask for assistance in obtaining a Purple Heart posthumously for his grandfather. His case for the Purple Heart was evaluated and approved by the Department of the Army.
On Oct. 14, 100 years to the day after Rydzewski suffered combat injuries during WWI, Higgins and U.S. Army Buffalo Recruiting Center Commander Capt. Randy Warren presented the long-overdue Purple Heart to Gerald Wienckowski in honor of his grandfather's service and sacrifice.
In addition to the Purple Heart, the family received the World War I Victory Button and the World War I Victory medal with the France clasp, Meuse-Argonne Battle clasp and St. Mihiel Battle clasp. Higgins also presented the family with a Purple Heart Certificate from the U.S. Army and a flag that flew over the Capitol Building in recognition of the sacrifices made by Rydzewski.

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