Reconnecting with his Polish heritage on a WWII battlefield - The Buffalo News

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Reconnecting with his Polish heritage on a WWII battlefield

Henry M. Kurowski, 90

Hometown: Sochaczew, Poland

Residence: Buffalo

Branch: Army

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1943-46

Rank: Staff sergeant

Most prominent honor: European Theater Medal

Specialties: Rifleman, platoon sergeant

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

Henry M. Kurowski’s parents had gotten word when they were young and living in their native Poland that the streets of America were paved with gold.

Brimming with ambition, each arrived separately in the United States in the early part of the last century. Andrew Kurowski left the family farm behind. So did Rose Lada. The young man and woman met in Chicago and were soon married.

Saving every penny they made, they purchased fields back in Poland and methodically assembled a large parcel so they could one day return.

“Back then, farmers were considered well-to-do in Europe,” Kurowski said.

By the early 1920s, following his father’s service in the U.S. Army in World War I, Kurowski’s parents returned to Sochaczew to make their living off the land, but shrewdly kept their options open.

“My dad reported to the U.S. consul in Warsaw every six months to renew his visa, and he was told on one of those visits that war was coming to Poland and they should move back to America,” said Kurowski, who was born in Poland in 1924. “They sold the farm, and around 1936, they moved back, this time settling in Buffalo.”

Buffalo, he said, was attractive to them because of its big Polish immigrant community.

The prediction of war proved accurate, and though the family had escaped, Henry Kurowski returned to Europe at age 20 a U.S. soldier just in time for the final days of World War II’s epic Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45.

“The battle was almost over when I arrived. I was a replacement. The Germans said they would be back in Paris by Christmas, but we were taking prisoners,” Kurowski said. “They were old men and young kids. A lot of them were shell-shocked and out of their heads. They dug holes with their entrenching tools and lived in them in the POW camps.”

Some of the prisoners, he recalled, tried to escape.

“They would crawl toward the fences around the camps and get shot,” Kurowski said, adding that, as a sergeant, he was spared guard duty. “I just posted the guards.”

With the war just about over in the spring of 1945, he asked his commanding officer if he might be granted a leave to visit nearby Poland but was turned down. Though disappointed, he was delighted when one day, out of the blue, a Polish soldier serving in Germany called out his name:

“He looked at me and said, ‘Weren’t you the kid at the farm?’

“I said, ‘Yeah, you used to come up to the house and visit my brothers and my 15-year-old sister.’

“This guy was a farmer and a neighbor.”

The visit cheered him. He would have something to talk about back home in Buffalo when he was reunited with his two brothers who also were in the military – one of them serving in Alaska and the other in the Middle East.

But Kurowski did more than reminisce when he resumed civilian life.

He returned to his job at the Chevrolet plant in the Town of Tonawanda but left several years later when he hit it big in the stock market. Yet he stayed in the neighborhood, purchasing a Niagara River marina across the street from the auto factory.

“I had 17 aluminum boats and used to rent them out for people to fish off Strawberry Island. It was a famous area for muskies,” Kurowski said, adding that Sheridan Park Golf Course was conveniently located a couple of miles away.

“Golfing was my hobby. I was a better-than-average golfer and got three holes-in-one at Sheridan, one at Brighton Golf Course and another at Fonthill in Canada.”

In 1985, he sold the marina but has regularly continued to visit there, where he maintains an office.

And while he was lucky in business, true love eluded him. “I had a girl that I wanted to marry, but I got drafted, and while I was in the service, I got a letter from my family saying, ‘Hey, your girlfriend got married.’ ”

But that once-removed “Dear John” letter happened a long time ago, and Kurowski said life has been very good to him.

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