Kowalczyk earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart & Presidential Unit Citation while serving in battles following Invasion of Normandy
On the 78th anniversary of D-Day, Congressman Brian Higgins honored the late Pvt. Walter J. Kowalczyk, a distinguished World War II veteran. Service medals Kowalczyk earned were presented by Higgins to family members during a ceremony in Niagara Falls.
“As we mark the historic anniversary of D-Day, it is critical that we recognize the service and sacrifice of those who deployed abroad to defend our country,” Higgins said. “Honoring Pvt. Kowalczyk posthumously is an important reminder of the cost of freedom. We are forever grateful for his heroic service.”
Kowalczyk was born in Niagara Falls, in 1916, to Francisek Kowalczyk and Sophie Smiech, Polish immigrants who had moved to the U.S. just a few years prior. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 23, 1941, as part of the Third Battalion, 334th Regiment, of the 84th Infantry Division, more commonly known as the “Railsplitter” division. Kowalczyk served in the European Theater of Operations from Dec. 8, 1944, until Sept. 26, 1945. During this time, his unit supported troops in Normandy in the aftermath of D-Day.
While serving as a paratrooper in Europe, Kowalczyk participated in the battles of Ardennes, Central Europe and Rhineland. The campaign in Ardennes, otherwise referred to as the “Battle of the Bulge,” was carried out from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, and was the last German offensive that resulted in tremendous loss of life.
Later, Kowalczyk’s unit was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism, gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps under unusually difficult and hazardous conditions during the Battle of Rhineland. He was wounded there while in action. The citation notes the unit was assigned to the mission spearheading the advance between the Roer and Rhine rivers. The battalion encountered and defeated considerable enemy resistance, but advanced 42 miles along the banks of the Rhine River in 12 days. During the advance, troops captured and defended a strategically important German town, as well as several other cities, towns and villages. Despite little rest and aggressive attacks from the enemy, the Third Battalion, 334th Infantry’s conspicuous bravery and dauntless determination played a critical role in the Allied Forces advancement deep into Germany.
The 84th Infantry Division had a total of 7,260 battle casualties and 1,468 deaths over the course of World War II. The 84th Infantry Division was officially recognized as a liberating division by the US Army’s Center of Military History and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Kowalczyk was honorably discharged from the military on Oct. 10, 1945, after more than four years of service.
While serving in World War II Kowalczyk earned a total of 11 awards, including the:
•Bronze Star Medal, which is awarded for “Heroic or meritorious achievement or service,” and is the fourth-highest combat decoration a veteran can receive
•Purple Heart, after being wounded in action by the enemy
•Good Conduct Medal, awarded for three consecutive years of honorable service
•Presidential Unit Citation, which was awarded to the Third Battalion, 334th Regiment, on June 15, 1945, for heroic service in Germany between Sept. 8, 1939, and De. 7, 1941
•American Defense Service Medal, received for serving from 1940-45
•American Campaign Medal, awarded for service during World War II within the American Theater of Operations
•European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with a Triple Bronze Star Attachment, which signifies service in three major campaigns
•World War II Victory Medal, awarded to all who served in the war
•Combat Infantryman Badge First Award, which is given to all service members who were assigned to an infantry or special forces unit and engaged in active ground combat
•Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, awarded to service members who were honorably discharged between 1925-46
•Expert Badge and Machine Gun Bar, which is awarded to those who score at the highest level when firing for record with three types of guns
After serving, Kowalczyk returned to Niagara County and worked for Tam Ceramics before retiring in 1981. In Western New York, he was a member of United Steel Workers, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Lewiston Fire Co. No. 1, Power City Lodge, Italian Daughters and Sons of America, and St. Peter’s R.C. Church. An avid sportsman, he participated in the 3F Sportsmen’s Club and became a charter member of the North American Fishing Club. Additionally, he was an active member of the local veteran community, joining Portage Post 146 of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Loyal Order of the Moose, and the Polish Legion of American Veterans.
Kowalczyk married Sophie Saleski with whom he had three children: Carol, Chester and Paul. They also had three grandchildren: Sarah, Michael and Teresa, as well as three great-grandchildren: Geffory, Maylianna and Antonio. Chester, Sarah and Michael followed in Walter’s footsteps, with Chester serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and Sarah and Michael both serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Walter passed away on Nov. 12, 1993, before he could receive the medals he earned during his military service.
The shrapnel he took from the enemy during the war remained with him throughout his life.