Bernard Janowski was a decorated hero of World War II. He is an unknown soldier to you, but to me he was my kind, loving and generous stepfather, Bernie.
He married my mother when I was 5 and moved us to Girard, Ohio. I spent many happy years with him and my mom. I especially remember helping him plant a garden in our backyard.
What I did not know about him, and which he rarely spoke about, was his military service.
Recently, I requested his records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and was astounded by what I discovered.
He served in France and Germany and was wounded by shrapnel; suffered six bouts of malaria; and was honorably discharged in 1945, at the “convenience of the government.”
Among medals he received is the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star, Distinguished Unit Badge, a Good Conduct Medal from the U.S. Army, and the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal.
I researched the latter medal and found it was awarded to personnel for service within the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater between Dec. 7, 1941, and Nov. 8, 1945.
He also received the Croix de Guerre from France. Audie Murphy, often referred to as the most decorated soldier of WWII, also received this medal and served in the same unit as Bernie.
Among the many pages of official documentation are two letters from fellow soldiers who witnessed his heroism at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 27, 1944, at the St. Die sector in France.
These accounts state that he crawled 50 yards under an enemy bazooka attack to draw fire away from a wounded comrade. In this exchange of fire, he sustained painful wounds, yet despite his condition, he managed to knock out the enemy bazooka.
He continued with his patrol until they reached their objective. Only then did he stop to have his wounds treated.
This action led to his Bronze Star. The commendation states that his action, at great risk to his own person, forced the withdrawal of the German resistance. Sounds like a John Wayne movie, but this was real, and this was my stepfather.
The recently deceased Col. John Ripley, who is credited with stopping a North Vietnamese tank column, said: “When you know you’re not going to make it, a wonderful thing happens: You stop being cluttered by the feeling that you’re going to save your butt.”
I believe Bernie experienced that feeling when he crawled those 50 yards. And I believe John McCain felt that way during his five-plus years in the Hanoi Hilton. He would have made a great president.
Whatever your feelings about war, especially the Vietnam and Gulf wars, and whether you think of Nov. 11 as Armistice Day or Veterans Day, know that every soldier, man or woman, is a hero, with or without medals.
Remember them at 11 a.m. Nov. 11.
Valerie Golembiewski is a Tucson wife, mother, grandmother and New York transplant. E:mail: firstname.lastname@example.org