Joed Viera, Lockport Union-Sun Journal , Associated Press
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — On Dec. 7, 1941, the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, propelling the country into the second world war. As the "Greatest Generation" continues to age, it's important to keep their stories and heroism alive.
Over the course of several weeks this past November, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal staff photographer Joed Viera spoke with four World War II veterans living in Niagara County. Two of them, Edward Kolek and Stanley Maziarz, are recipients of the French Legion of Honor Chevalier for their bravery and prowess during the war.
After interviewing the veterans, Viera traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to research their stories at the National Archives. He used the information to supplement his audio-visual production, "A Call To Arms," which is online at lockportjournal.com
Here are condensed versions of those four veterans' war stories.
— Edward Kolek: Ploiesti was a close call
Retired Lt. Col. Edward Kolek, 92, piloted bombing missions over Europe during World War II. Kolek flew more than the required number of missions and said that he enjoyed his role in the war.
"I just loved combat," he said. "I was prepared both physically and psychologically. Prepared to be shot down every mission."
Kolek's most memorable mission was a bombing run over Ploiesti, Romania, meant to disrupt a major source of oil for Nazi Germany. While on the way to making the run, the B-24 that Kolek was flying was hit by German antiaircraft fire and lost an engine.
"I had to drop down and started losing a bit of altitude and had to drop the nose to maintain flying speed," he said.
Intent on making his bombing run despite the lost engine, Kolek circled around and flew over the targeted area.
"I had a good bombardier, sharp," he said. "I said, 'bombs away.' We hit the target, and just as I said bombs away we got hit and I lost another engine."
Now down two engines, and with the aircraft's controls damaged as well, Kolek had to make it to a friendly airfield. He dropped out of formation, since his plane was at risk of exploding mid-air and posed a danger to the other bombers. Once he finally made it to a friendly base, Kolek had to figure out how to land the plane with the right-side landing gear rendered inoperable by enemy fire.
"I knew on landing ... that the wing would begin to go around and cartwheel and burst into flames," he said. "I kept that wing up as long as I could without losing direction of the flight and we crashed."
Somehow, Kolek was able to keep the plane from cartwheeling and possibly exploding. He and the crew made it out alive.
— Joe Kedron: From Anzio to Normandy
Joe Kedron, 89, lived in Pendleton for 50 years and now lives in Lockport. He joined the Navy in June of 1942, at the age of 17, and needed both parents to sign off as he was too young to join on his own. Kedron served on a landing ship tank and was involved with the D-Day assault on June 6, 1944, as well as several other amphibious landings in Africa and Italy.
Part of Kedron's job in the assault fleet of the Naval Amphibious Forces was to transport troops to the beachheads of Normandy and take the wounded back to the ships.
"It's not like it is in the movies," he said. "We went from beach to beach. We hit Utah Beach. The beach was about 50 miles long. It wasn't short. We put the infantry in and took out the wounded and the prisoners. Things like that."
Kedron, who had three brothers in the war, was also involved in Operation Shingle, an amphibious landing against German troops in Anzio and Nettuno, Italy, starting on Jan. 22, 1944.
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