July 31, 1923 – Jan. 12, 2018
Ken Janish invaded France before the troops landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
He was dropped onto the banks of the Merderet River outside Sainte-Mere-Eglise hours ahead of the arrival of American forces on nearby Omaha and Utah beaches. Despite heavy casualties, his unit - the Army’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment - stopped German troops from crossing a causeway and reaching the invading forces.
He also survived the largest airborne assault in history in September 1944 in the Netherlands and the Battle of the Bulge and wondered whether he would survive the war. But he did.
Mr. Janish died Friday in the New York State Veterans’ Home in Batavia after a short illness. He was 94.
While doing paperwork in headquarters in Europe, a reporter from radio station WGR arrived and asked, “Is anyone in this unit from Buffalo?”
Mr. Janish was escorted to Paris and told about his experiences in battle for a recording that was broadcast at home.
He rushed to rejoin his unit in December before it left for the Battle of the Bulge and, in haste, left without his boots and winter coat. He fended off cold nights by finding a foxhole, covering it with a parachute and lighting a candle for heat.
“He thought he would never see another Christmas,” said one of his daughters, Evelyn L.
Mr. Janish was wounded in that campaign and, after he recovered, he was discharged and offered a choice. He could stay in Europe and wait to receive the Bronze Star he had earned, or he could go home.
“My mother said, ‘Go home, go home,’ so I did,” he told The Buffalo News in 2005 when he was finally presented with the Bronze Star by Rep. Thomas Reynolds.
In all, Mr. Janish received 14 awards for his military service, including two Purple Hearts. He attained the rank of sergeant and, at the end of the war, at age 21, he was the oldest member of his unit.
Born in Buffalo, Kenneth Frank Janish attended Kensington High School and was a production worker for Trico before he enlisted in the Army.
A bit of luck as he returned from the war financed Mr. Janish’s career after he arrived back home.
“On the ship with other soldiers, what do you do but gamble?” Evelyn said.
His specialty was throwing dice.
“He was pretty good at it,” she said. “When those fellows lost, they paid him with their government drafts. He had a handful of them.”
His father had worked for a local dairy, delivering milk. The money from Mr. Janish’s winnings helped him, his father and his brother, Robert, establish their own delivery company, Clarence Dairy, in 1946, named after the street where they lived.
“They bought a milk license and a truck,” Evelyn said.
Dice also led him to Evelyn Mary Lehner, whom he married in 1949 and who did the bookkeeping for the company.
His daughter Evelyn said that he used to roller skate regularly at the Wagon Wheel, while she used to frequent another rink, Skateland. When he was banned from the Wagon Wheel for shooting dice in the men’s room, he went to Skateland, and that’s where they met.
The Janishes took milk door-to-door in the Tonawandas, then expanded to Clarence, Angola and the Town of Evans. Then, in the 1960s, home delivery declined.
“All of a sudden, things were changing,” said his other daughter, Mary Towles. “He read an article about milk machines, and he and Bob went to New York City to look at them. They brought them back and put them in the suburbs. They went over like wildfire. The one at George Urban Boulevard and Union Road was one of their biggest sellers. It did 1,000 quarts a day.”
When the milk machine business stopped being profitable in the late 1970s, he began delivering milk and other dairy products to restaurants, many of them on Transit Road. He retired in 2007.
He was a resident of Green Acres in the Town of Tonawanda from 1955 to 1973, then moved to Depew. For many years, he and his wife maintained a winter condominium home in Puerto Rico.
He was former co-chairman of the 82nd Airborne Division Association-Niagara Frontier, and a former officer in the Disabled American Veterans.
The 82nd Airborne, 508th Association, honored him with its national O. B. Hill Award.
A fan of all sports, he enjoyed bowling, swimming, playing baseball and dominoes, and visiting casinos.
His wife died in 2011.
In addition to his daughters, survivors include a granddaughter and two grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Amigone Funeral Home, 6050 Transit Road, Depew.