This time last year for The American Spectator, I wrote about the five Bailey brothers of World War II: Dick, Jim, Fonnie, John, and Fred. They were from Western Pennsylvania, my neck of the woods. All served in World War II. We’ve all heard of the Ryan brothers in “Saving Private Ryan” and perhaps the Sullivan brothers in the old black-and-white film “The Fighting Sullivans.” And we know from these movies that the U.S. military resolved to never again take the risk of exposing so many of one mother’s sons to the risk of death in one war.
And yet, there they were, all five Bailey boys. Not one was granted a desk job on the home-front. All five volunteered for combat after Pearl Harbor and all five faced—Europe, the Pacific, Northern Africa; by land, by air, by sea.
Imagine: Five brothers in one war.
I was pretty impressed by this, and still am, of course. So, imagine my surprise when a reader of that column sent me a package regarding his seven brothers who served in World War II. Yes, seven brothers in one war.
“Dear Professor Kengor,” wrote Ted Walters of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, “Your article about the family whose five sons served in WW II was interesting. You might be interested to know about families in Western Pennsylvania who had more than five sons who served in WW II.”
Whoa. Ted Walters had my attention.
“My mother, Stella Pietkiewicz, had seven sons serve in WW II,” he continued. “She had the honor to christen the plane, Spirit of Poles, because she had the most sons who served in WW II.”
Along with Ted Walters’ letter was a clipping from an old newspaper that showed six Pittsburgh-area mothers, all of Polish descent, who between them had 33 sons in service. Anna Lozowska, Maryanna Sawinska, Katarzyna Antosz, and Mrs. Joseph Wojtaszek each offered five boys to the cause. Honorata Lachowicz provided six sons. Stella Pietkiewicz took the prize with seven.
Bless their souls, may they rest in peace. These moms gave their boys to the cause of freedom.
The ladies were all brought together by an organization called the Central Council of Polish Organizations in Allegheny County (the county that includes Pittsburgh) for a fundraising effort called the “Spirit of Poles” bomber campaign. The campaign sold over $500,000 worth of war bonds, which was a hell of a lot of money for one organization to raise at that time.
And hell was indeed what these women and their boys were fighting. Not only were they battling for freedom in America, but they had a special concern for what was happening in their native Poland. Their beloved nation had been the site of the start of World War II. On September 1, 1939, just one week after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Nazis invaded Poland from the West, followed by the Soviet Red Army invading from the East two-and-a-half weeks later. World War II was on. Over the next several years, Poland’s people would be slaughtered, suffering a higher proportion of death than any country in all of World War II. Poland also had a huge Jewish population, which was corralled into dens of unspeakable evil, such as Treblinka and the Warsaw Ghetto. When the Nazis were finally defeated, Poland’s reward was 44 more years of totalitarian occupation, this time by communists.
And so, these ethnic Polish women in America had a sense that this battle was worth fighting. Their sons did, too. And Stella Pietkiewicz gave the most.
I don’t know the fate of all 33 boys, but the Pietkiewicz boys, remarkably, all returned home safely. For the benefit of their descendants reading right now—which number some 100 children and grandchildren—here were the boys: Edmond, Walter, Wilfred, Roderick, Vitold, Leon, and Stanley. Some of the boys later took on their father’s first name, Walter, as their last name (they added an “s,” making it “Walters”). It was much easier to pronounce and work with.
For the record, their father was no slouch either. Walter Leon Pietkiewicz, born March 25, 1883, immigrated to this country and thrived. By the age of 23, he had graduated from the University of Pittsburgh’s excellent pharmacy school. He became a pharmacist with an office at 3053 Brereton Avenue in the Polish Hill section of Pittsburgh.
The boys were all over the map during this terrible war: Europe, the Philippines, Okinawa, Tokyo Bay, Morocco, Africa, the Middle East. Wilfred was decorated for invading and occupying Iwo Jima. His ship bombed the Japanese mainland. Edmond fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Five of the seven brothers went overseas.
Stella was apparently pretty tough herself. She gave birth to 14 children, nine boys and five girls. (One boy was born stillborn.) Ted was the only boy who didn’t serve in World War II; he was too young. He later volunteered for and served in the Korean War. Of the entire clan, only Ted and one sister, Hope, are still alive.
It’s quite a story of quite a family. And although the Pietkiewicz family wasn’t the only family who gave multiple sons to the cause, it was fortunate enough to have them all return home. Many were not so lucky.
But while that part of the story has a happy ending, there’s a definite tragic component: Stella did not survive the war. She died of cancer before the war ended. She didn’t live to see all her boys come home.
All that time, she kept a stoic silence. “There wasn’t too much talk about it [the war] around the house,” remembers Ted, who was 12 years old when the war ended. His parents “didn’t talk about it much.” The same was true for the brothers once they all came home. Ted says he never heard any war stories from his older brothers. Ted’s wife, Pat, adds: “And we were with them a lot! But we never heard any war stories from them.”
They did their duty and then came home to raise their families and serve their country in other ways.
How can we repay families like these for the sacrifices they made 70 years ago? We can show them our gratitude by not destroying the America that they were willing to die for.