Unknown no more

Sayreville, NJ

The recent issue of the Legion magazine had an article about renewing WorId War I memorials; I think this may count as a first success in doing so. My great-aunt was Balbina Brzezinski Janas Kasprowicz Iwanowski. She was one of 13 sisters. She herself gave birth to 15 children. One of Balbina's daughters was Rose Yanas, who married Frank Maliszewski. Frank became an undertaker, embalming bodies in his garage. This was the end of the 1800s and wakes were still held in the home. He served a community of fellow Polish immigrants called Melrose in Sayreville, N.J. His son Matthew took over the business. When he in turn passed away, Carmen Spezzi, his nephew, took over the business. Not surprisingly, Matthew Maleszewski knew where all the bodies were buried. Perhaps a half-century ago two of my Yanas cousins, Joan and Marge, were talking to Matthew about where Balbina's husbands were buried. Matthew told Joan and Marge that Balbina had a plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery in neighboring South Amboy. After a lot of time and research we found out who was buried in the plot (only one of the nine burials was marked with a headstone and the cemetery records were badly damaged). It turned out that one of those buried in the plot was Cpl. Frank Wieczorkowski, Jan. 8, 1896-Aug. 5, 1918, killed in action in France while serving in the U.S. Army, whose remains were returned for burial.
Discovering that a soldier had been buried there led to a search for his Army death certificate, which we located, and various newspaper articles about his and fellow servicemembers' remains. A request for a headstone from the Army was found...so where was it? At this point I needed assistance. I live in Florida and am unable to travel long distances. I am sure that many of you have found online cemetery records; I found one for Saint Mary's and solicited the assistance of its creator, Dianne Delitto. She made many trips to the cemetery to try to find the headstone. Frustrated, I solicited the assistance of the local historical society, and Deborah Marion volunteered to help me. Thanks to their efforts we located a half-buried headstone against the cemetery fence. It was deteriorated and took a rubbing to verify that it said Wieczorkowski and The Great War. So the mystery of what happened to Cpl. Wieczorkowski's headstone was solved. My cousin Richard Kosmoski is a past American Legion post commander, and he got with cousin Carmen to submit a request to VA for a replacement marker. It was rejected twice because it needed to be submitted by next of kin or other acceptable party. While the corporal's mother is a probable great-aunt of my cousins and I, proving it isn't easy. The problem is that her marriage certificate from Poland, perpetuated into U.S. records, shows her maiden name to be Antoneszki, not Brzezinski! We believe that her father's name Antoni Brzezinski some how became Antoneszki. We searched for someone named Wieczorkowski or Makwinski (the corporal's sister's married name) but despite repeated tries we failed to find anyone. VA said they would accept certification by the original (1921) funeral director. You only lose if you give up, so Richard asked Congressman Frank Pallone to intercede ... and the stone was received this spring. Having been an unknown soldier for almost a century, my cousin decided that a ceremony was called for and started to make arrangements for one on the corporal's anniversary of death. That part of the cemetery was overgrown, so he and his son did some cleaning up. We assembled a shadow box of the corporal's medals, rank, patches, etc. His records were destroyed in a fire in the St. Louis archives decades ago along with three-quarters of the other WWI records, so this required more research, but we had the time to get it done.
Since the corporal's Army death certificate showed his last name as Wieczorkowsky, so does his grave marker. The stage was set and the curtain went up on Aug. 5. Photos of the event do not show that some 150 people turned out to honor a WWI veteran. Halfway through the program, a man came forward from the crowd to say that Cpl. Frank Wieczorkowski was his uncle. He was presented with a casket flag and helped make it a perfect day.

« Previous story
Next story »