Feb. 9, 1922 – Oct. 21, 2015
John C. Byczkowski was the kind of man who could fix anything. An engineer at many of Buffalo’s old industrial firms, including Bell Aircraft and Sylvania, he learned his trade on the job, never earning a degree in his field.
It was that kind of innovative spirit and practical grit that led him to one of his proudest days. When as a technical sergeant aboard a bomber on D-Day, he made sure damaged bombs on board wouldn’t fall on civilians.
The Cheektowaga resident died Wednesday in Elderwood at Cheektowaga after a slow decline in his health. He was 93.
Mr. Byczkowski was born in Buffalo and graduated from Seneca High School in 1940. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942.
He was a technical sergeant in the 409th Bombing Squadron, 93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), completing 16 combat missions in B-24 Liberator bombers during World War II. He served as a radio operator and turret gunner.
During a D-Day mission over France, his plane came under attack and incurred damage to the bomb bay. Byczkowski descended to the 8-inch-wide catwalk with a pair of pliers to manually release four 500-pound bombs to eliminate the risk that they could cause the B-24 to blow up. He didn’t wear a parachute or safety harness, and had only a minute’s supply of oxygen as the plane flew 250 mph at about 20,000 feet.
When he saw that the plane was over a town, he decided not to release the bombs, waiting until it was back over water. By the time the crew dragged him back to the floor of the plane, Mr. Byczkowski was suffering the effects of being without oxygen for minutes.
In 2009, Mr. Byczkowski was honored as a chevalier – a knight – in the French Legion of Honor and formally accepted a Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States during a ceremony at Post 6251, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Cheektowaga, where he was a member.
After World War II, Mr. Byczkowski worked as an engineer at numerous companies, most notably as senior industrial engineer at Sylvania, until it closed its local operation in 1973. He later became a technical assistant in the industrial art department at SUNY Buffalo State. He retired in 1989.
Mr. Byczkowski was active with his VFW post and was a member of the Post Seniors Club and the Cheektowaga Patriotic Commission. He was president of the Cheektowaga Seniors Couples Club and was the leader of Boy Scout Troop 300 for more than 50 years
His wife of 62 years, the former Eleanor Guzenski, died in 2010.
He is survived by a daughter, Joanne Ballard; three sons, Michael Buckley, John J., and Robert; a brother, Joseph; a sister, Mildred Popek; 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday in Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, 2158 Clinton St.