In recognition of National Purple Heart Day, Higgins looks to solve Purple Heart mystery & Return original Purple Heart certificate to family of WNY WWII prisoner of war who was killed in action
Congressman Brian Higgins is looking for the community’s help in identifying the family of the late Corp. Henry Mazurkiewicz, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Mazurkiewicz enlisted in Buffalo in 1940 at the age of 23. On April 9, 1942, Mazurkiewicz, alongside roughly 1,600 other members of the 31st Infantry Regiment, surrendered to the Japanese as part of the Bataan Defense Force in the Philippines during World War II.
Shortly after surrender, the Japanese forced over 60,000 captives to march 68 miles under harsh conditions – known as the “Bataan Death March” – to various prison locations, largely including Camp O’Donnell. Mazurkiewicz, then deemed a prisoner of war, was one of many casualties resulting from the “Death March.”
Mazurkiewicz was among those who endured the brutality of the “Death March,” in which prisoners were denied relief stops and water and were subjected to physical violence by Japanese guards. Those who survived were often sent to work in slave labor camps, which encompassed severe physical ruthlessness by guards, including death.
Survivors also greatly suffered from malnutrition and diseases, such as malaria. As recorded in 1944, about 1,155 men died in captivity, including Mazurkiewicz, who died on May 18, 1942. The death count surpassed the 31st Regiment’s number of casualties recorded during actual combat.
In recognition of his service and sacrifice, the U.S. Department of War, today known as the Department of Defense, awarded Mazurkiewicz with the Purple Heart. The certificate was originally addressed to Jennie Shultz, living in Buffalo, in 1944. The original certificate was recently provided to Higgins’ office in hopes of finding a rightful home. Despite intensive research, Higgins’ office has been unable to locate the Mazurkiewicz’s relatives.
Higgins said, “These original documents are meaningful pieces of American history and family keepsakes that help to tell the story of the incredible bravery and sacrifices made by Corp. Mazurkiewicz. We hope to hand these over to his family who can appreciate and carry forward these records as a lasting legacy of his service to this nation.”
Higgins issued the request for help on National Purple Heart Day, which is observed on Aug. 7 and marks the anniversary of the day in 1982 when Gen. George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit – the predecessor to the modern-day Purple Heart Medal. The Purple Heart is presented to service members of the U.S. armed forces who have been wounded or killed as a direct result of enemy action. It is the oldest American military award.
Higgins is asking community members with information about Mazurkiewicz to contact the Buffalo office at 716-852-3501.