Face in the Firehouse: Cpl. Edward Olszewski, One of Department’s 4 WW2 KIAs

Cpl. Edward Olszewski of Sag Harbor, killed in action in 1945.

The news story was brief but above the fold at the top of page one of the February 1, 1945 edition of The Sag Harbor Express.

The words “Killed In Action” appeared above a one-column photograph of a soldier posing in his Army greens, under which appeared the name “Edward Olszewski.”

“A telegram was received Tuesday of this week,” the copy reads, “by Mrs. Rose Olszewski that her son Edward was killed in action in Belgium on January 4th. Eddie was a member of the 505th Parachute Infantry and had been seriously wounded previously while serving in Italy.

“The Express joins with all Sag Harbor in expressing sincere sympathy to the bereaved family.”

The simplicity of the item belies Corporal Olszewski’s combat experience, fighting with the 82nd Airbone Division all the way from North Africa to Italy, D-Day in Normandy and later Holland and Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge, during which he was killed.

He wasn’t married and had no children. Of his close relatives, all six of his brothers and sisters have passed away, according to his nephew Ray Olszewski, 61, who runs Cove Hollow Landscaping in East Hampton. He never knew his uncle, but heard from his father, Joseph, that Eddie had fought in the great battles of World War II. He has one of his Purple Hearts and his sister, who lives upstate, has the other.

Ten years younger than his brother, Joseph joined the Navy as a teenager and was on his way across the Pacific when Eddie was killed. He didn’t get the news until weeks later.

Corporal Olszewski’s picture — his name is pronounced “Oshefsky” — is one of four mounted in the hallway at the main firehouse honoring members of the department who died in World War II: Edward Olszewski, Joseph Dysken, Arthur Browngardt Jr. and Edwin Bill.

Those unexplained pictures inspired a group of history buffs, including Ed Deyermond, a former Sag Harbor Village mayor and trustee, and John O’Brien, to research the men’s stories. Both members of the Sag Harbor Fire Department, they’ve given what they learned to the Express for a series of articles that have appeared around Memorial Day and Veterans Day since last year.

A 1930s Pierson graduate who joined Sag Harbor’s Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company in 1934, Olszewski joined the Army in 1939, still in the midst of the Great Depression but before the U.S. entered the war. No birthdate could be found for him.

He was posted to Company D of the 505th Regimental Combat Team of the now fabled 82ndAirborne Division, which put him in the thick of the fight when the U.S. joined the fray: North Africa in 1942: and Sicily and Naples in 1943, when he was severely wounded and awarded a Purple Heart. His second would be awarded posthumously.

In 1944, recovered, he went on to jump into Normandy on D-Day, at Ste. Mere-Eglise, helping to make it the first French village to be liberated in the Allied offensive. He and his unit went on to secure a bridge over the Merderet River near LaFiere, blunting the German attempts to counterattack. Relieved by infantry units that had landed at Utah Beach and moved inland, Corporal Olszewski’s unit went back to England to begin training for Operation Market Garden, a massive offensive into the Netherlands as part of the Allied push toward the Rhine and Germany. It was the basis for the book and movie, “A Bridge Too Far.” Corporal Olszewski’s unit jumped into Groesbeck, Holland, and — surrounded by superior German forces — held its position until relieved, earning a Presidential Unit Citation.

In December 1944, posted to the Ardennes area of Belgium, Corporal Olszewski’s 505th ran into German Panzer units, part of a German do-or-die counter-offensive, soon known as the Battle of the Bulge. Pushed back at first, the Americans managed to slow and deflect the German advance and finally stop it.

Allied troops, seeking to regain their original positions, counter-attacked. Corporal Olszewski’s company “relentlessly engaged enemy forces and in one of the small-unit engagements in the area” on June 4, 1945, “between Malmedy and St. Vith, near the village of Arbrefontaine, Corporal Olszewski was mortally wounded,” according to the sketch prepared by Mr. Deyermond and John O’Brien.

In addition to his two Purple Hearts, Corporal Olszewski won two Presidential Unit Citations, the Combat Infantry Badge, a Parachute Badge, a Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the American and European-African-Middle East Campaign Medals.

He is buried at Long Island National Cemetery in East Farmingdale.