Congressman Higgins Presents Purple Heart to Family of WWI Veteran Walter Rydzewski for Battle Injuries Received 100 Years Ago
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) was joined by New York State Assemblymember Monica Wallace, Depew Village 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,” said Congressman Higgins. “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.”
"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," said Assemblymember Wallace. “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. Rydzeski 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, Walter Rydzewski immigrated to the City of Buffalo with his family as a teenager. On September 26, 1917, at the age of 24, Rydzewski enlisted in the United States Army to serve during World War I. On November 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, Pvt. Rydzewski first fought in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, the only offensive battle launched solely by the US Army during World War I. The battle lasted from September 12 through September 15, 1918 and resulted in an Allied victory.
Private Rydzewski later fought in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign which began September 26, 1918. It was the largest battle ever fought by U.S. forces involving 1.2 million American soldiers and led to an armistice which ended World War I. However, this victory for the Allied Forces came at an extremely heavy cost, killing 26,000 Americans and injuring 95,000 more.
Unfortunately, among the soldiers injured was Private Walter Rydzewski who was shot in his upper left chest and severely wounded on October 14, 1918, less than a month before the war ended on November 11, 1918. Pvt. Rydzewski was sent back to the United States along with other wounded soldiers via the USS Orizaba on March 25, 1919, with a bullet still lodged below his heart.
After returning home Pvt. 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.
Private Rydzewski had complications associated with his battle wound which landed him in the hospital for emergency surgery. He died during surgery on October 29, 1923 at just 30 years old. His death certificate states that 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, NY.
Private Rydzewski’s daughter Irene Lorraine married Henry Wienckowski and they had three children: Barbara, Gerald and Conrad. Henry 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. Henry was a member of Central Hose Company Number 4 and served as an Assistant Fire Chief of the Depew Fire Department. He was elected as a Village Trustee in 1952 where he served for 28 years. He also served as Deputy Mayor for 12 years under Mayor John Domino.
Pvt. Rydzewski’s grandson Gerald Wienckowski, an honorably discharged U.S. Army Officer himself, recently discovered that his grandfather was wounded in France and never received his Purple Heart. He reached out to Congressman 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 October 14, 2018, 100 years to the day after Private Rydzewski suffered combat injuries during WWI, Congressman Higgins’ and U.S. Army Buffalo Recruiting Center Commander Captain 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. Congressman Higgins also presented the family with a Purple Heart Certificate from the US Army and a Flag that flew over the Capitol Building in recognition of the sacrifices made by Walter Rydzewski.