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Honoring a Hero: The Story of Private First Class Joseph J. Kowalczyk

May 27, 2024
PFC Joseph J. Kowalxzyk Photo

On Thursday, May 23, 2024, the Harrison Post No. 282 American Legion and the Sgt. William Sawelson VFW Post 340 held a solemn Memorial Day tribute at the Veteran's Plaza in Library Park. Among the names read aloud of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice was that of Private First Class Joseph J. Kowalczyk, a young soldier whose bravery and dedication to his country were honored with a special display containing his biography and military service history.

Born on February 19, 1922, in Harrison, NJ, Joseph J. Kowalczyk grew up in a close-knit community. He attended Our Lady of Czestochowa School and Harrison High School, where he was known for his kindness and camaraderie. Kowalczyk was an active member of the Young Men's Holy Name Society and the R-Own Social Club. Before his induction into the Army, he worked at the Otis Elevator Company in Harrison.

Inducted into the United States Army on his 21st birthday, February 19, 1943, Kowalczyk trained with the 38th Division at Camp Croft, South Carolina. By October 1943, he was sent overseas to England, preparing for the critical missions that lay ahead.

As a member of the 18th Regiment of the 1st Division, Private First Class Kowalczyk was among the initial forces to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion. He fought bravely in the fierce battles of St. Lo and Aachen, displaying exceptional courage and resilience.

On July 27, 1944, in the vicinity of Marigny, France, Kowalczyk's heroic actions earned him the Bronze Star. During an intense assault, when his squad's automatic gunner was wounded, Kowalczyk crossed exposed terrain under heavy enemy fire, took over the automatic weapon, and inflicted severe casualties on the enemy. His bravery and quick thinking saved lives and contributed significantly to the mission's success.

Kowalczyk continued to distinguish himself on the battlefield. On October 20, 1944, his valor earned him an Oak Leaf Cluster to his Bronze Star. Tragically, on November 20, 1944, during combat operations in Heistern, Germany, Private First Class Joseph J. Kowalczyk was killed in action. His sacrifice was honored posthumously with the Purple Heart.

On display during the Harrison Memorial Day Tribute at the Veteran’s Memorial at Library Park was a placard providing a poignant reminder of Kowalczyk's service and sacrifice. It highlighted not only his military achievements but also his life in Harrison, his family, and the community that remembered him with pride and sorrow.

Private First Class Kowalczyk is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Kowalczyk, and his siblings: Mrs. Ann Gadomski, Ms. Viola Cosgrove, Mrs. Veronica Spataro, Mrs. Charlotte Zvalauskas, Mrs. Agnes Rybbka, and brothers Alexander and Edward Kowalczyk.

As the names of fallen veterans echoed through the plaza, the legacy of Joseph J. Kowalczyk stood as a testament to the bravery and selflessness of those who served. His story, now etched in the annals of Harrison's history, continues to inspire and remind us of the true cost of freedom.

Harrison Post No. 282 American Legion and the Sgt. William Sawelson VFW Post 340 provided a great service to the community by holding the Harrison Memorial Day Tribute. It also gave the community the opportunity with the “So we do not forget” reading of the names of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation to protect the freedom we enjoy daily.  Thank you to all who made it possible.

Joseph J. Kowalczyk was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetary in North Arlington, NJ after a funeral at  Our Lady of Czestochowa with military honors. PFC Kowalczyk also lay in state both at the Harrison Town Hall and Our Lady of Czestochowa Church.

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