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Knights of the ‘Greatest Generation’


by Columbia staff

Knights who served in World War II tell their stories

More than seven decades have passed since World War II, and the “Greatest Generation” is quickly disappearing. Of the 16 million Allied servicemen from the United States and 1.1 million from Canada, nearly 450,000 lost their lives during the war. Approximately the same number remain alive today, and they are dying at about the same rate as during WWII — several hundred each day.

The war itself began with Hitler’s invasion of Poland Sept. 1, 1939. Canada followed England and France into the conflict days later. The United States entered the war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, casting the nation’s full weight into the war effort until the surrender of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1945.

When men returned from service, most resumed civilian life, got jobs and started families. Many joined the Knights of Columbus. Their lives, and the values that defined them, still have much to teach us today. As we look forward to Memorial Day, Columbia spoke with five Knights, all in their 90s, who shared some of their recollections about their service in the military and in the Order.

Anthony J. Buccieri

Anthony J. Buccieri

Anthony J. Buccieri Photo by George Hosek

• Born Oct. 6, 1924

• Water tender 2nd class, U.S. Navy; served in World War II on the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific; later served in the Korean War on the U.S.S. Woodworth and U.S.S. Heyliger

• Joined the Order in 1963; member of Msgr. Henry O’Carroll Council 444 in Newburgh, N.Y.; past faithful navigator of Francis J. Gorman Assembly 696 in East Orange County, N.Y.

• Logged more than 15,000 hours as a volunteer at Castle Point Veterans Hospital; past commander of Catholic War Veterans in Newburgh, N.Y.; past commander of Newburgh VFW Post 1161

• Named to the French National Order of the Legion of Honor in 2016

RIGHT AFTER Pearl Harbor, I signed up for the Navy. I was in high school in Marlborough, N.Y., and two weeks into my junior year, I got orders to report to Newport, R.I., and then on to a diesel school in Virginia.

In the fall of ’42, I got aboard the Tuscaloosa, which was a heavy cruiser, and they told us, “Your new station’s the boiler room.”

We started off with the invasion of North Africa and later escorted Churchill in the Queen Mary across the Atlantic to meet with Roosevelt. We then patrolled the North Atlantic, and at one point we were 50 miles from the magnetic North Pole on a secret mission preparing for the invasion of Normandy. They set up weather stations with Norwegian troops, and that’s what delayed the invasion of Normandy by a couple of days: the weather. I also saw Eisenhower aboard ship getting ready for the invasion.

On D-Day, we provided fire support for Utah Beach. I was below deck and didn’t see anything, but I could hear it, which was worse than seeing it! We picked up survivors after a destroyer hit a sea mine, and then we headed back to England. Next was the invasion of southern France, and then to the Pacific — Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where we lost a lot of men. We also went to the Philippines after the landings to liberate the islands, and then went on to Shanghai.

You talk about united people, regardless of what your race, color or creed was. It didn’t matter. We were there to win the war. There are 24 cemeteries throughout the world where our people are buried. They’re the heroes.

After the war, I got married and worked in heavy construction. Teresa and I had four children.

The Knights of Columbus was something in common among my close friends, and they invited me to join. And once I signed up, I was involved quite a bit. We all worked together between the Knights and the parish, and if there were any problems we could solve, we’d help solve them.

Dennis J. Kenny

Dennis J. Kenny

Dennis J. Kenny Photo by Ian McCausland Photography

• Born Dec. 14, 1918

• Aero engine technician in the Royal Canadian Air Force

• Joined the Order in 1962; member of St. Norbert (Manitoba) Council 8557 and Archbishop Tache Assembly 369 in Winnipeg

I GREW UP ON A FARM in St. Norbert, Manitoba. We were four boys and four girls in my family. Even though cash was not flowing like water, we were well-lodged, well-fed and well-loved. My parents were very religious; we said prayers every evening.

When I was 18, I joined the Army, the Canadian Officer Training Corps. After the second year of university I joined the Air Force. I was a flight engineer at airfields — maintaining engines, making sure they were safe for our pilots. I spent most of my time in Gimli, Souris and Dauphin in Manitoba, and in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, but I traveled to others across Canada.

I also served on the Precision Squadron, promoting the Air Force and attending funerals. There were 1,500 who died while training to be pilots in Canada during the war; I couldn’t attend all of them but I attended quite a few.

Mom was always worried that I would neglect my religion when I went in the service, but faith is essential in my life. Without it I would be lost.

During the war, I went to maybe half a dozen K of C Army Huts, in towns like Winnipeg and Dauphin. They were wellloved and attended by Air Force, Army and even the Navy. They served good food and provided entertainment — you got to dance and there were different stage shows, too.

I was discharged from the Air Force in May 1946 and opened a service station and repair shop called Kenny’s Garage, south of Winnipeg. In 1949, I married the love of my life, Leontine. We had six kids, and we have 16 grandkids and eight greatgrandkids.

I joined the Knights of Columbus in 1962, because those guys were leaders — they would have done anything for the Church. They were a good example for me. When Pope John Paul II visited in ’84, I served as commander of the Fourth Degree honor guard.

Since the war, I can say I have been happily married, raised children with guidance, love and respect. I hope I gave a good example — I did my best.

Joseph G. Lavallee

Joseph G. Lavallee

Joseph G. Lavallee Photo by Spirit Juice Studios

• Born Aug. 22, 1923

• Private first class, Company L, 4th Battalion, 5th Marine Corps Regiment, 1st Marine Division; served in the Pacific theater; wounded at the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea

• Joined the Order in 1945; past grand knight of St. Anne de Beaupre Council 3157 in Grants Pass, Ore.; past faithful navigator of Very Rev. Francis W. Black Assembly 905 in Medford, Ore., and Bishop Paul E. Waldschmidt Assembly 2437 in Grants Pass, Ore.; former district deputy

DAD AND MOTHER had a total of five boys and five girls. We grew up in Manchester, N.H., on a five-acre farm and enjoyed every moment of it.

When they bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, everything changed. Everybody was anxious to get in the service, and on Jan. 13, 1942, I joined the Marines. Of our five brothers, four were in the European theater; I was in the Pacific. We all came back healthy, thank God.

I left Quantico, Va., for New Zealand, where we had three or four months of training. The First Marine Corps Division went to Guadalcanal, but duties kept me in New Zealand. When we landed on the island of New Britain, we encountered quite a lot of Japanese soldiers on the beach itself.

During the battle, it was very scary, and a couple of my friends received bullets in the head. The bullet that killed my best friend ricocheted from my arm and got him in between the eyes. There was nothing I could do for him.

After we won that battle, they shipped us back to Australia. On New Britain, I had contracted all sorts of tropical diseases and couldn’t even walk. So, they shipped me to San Diego Naval Hospital, where I spent more than a year recovering.

Being in danger the way I was got me to pray a lot more. I still have the rosary I lost in a foxhole. When the troops went ahead, I said, “I can’t leave until I get my rosary.” It’s very important to have a strong faith.

After the war, some friends who were Knights of Columbus said, “Joe, you’ve got to join.” So, I’ve been a Knight since 1945. I feel it is the most important and wonderful organization for any Catholic man to be a part of, and I’ve brought in over 40 members.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lavallee ran an income tax service after the war and later worked 33 years for an aviation company in California. He is twice a widower and a father of four.

Cruz C. Ortiz Sr.

Cruz C. Ortiz

Cruz C. Ortiz Photo by Felix Sanchez

• Born May 3, 1920

• Corporal technician in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Company A 844, Engineer Aviation Battalion, Eighth Air Force

• Joined the Order in 1949; past grand knight of R. Conroy Scoggins Council 5678 and past faithful navigator of Msgr. George A. Wilhelm Assembly 1094, both in Houston

• VA hospital volunteer and fundraiser 1980-2004

MY PARENTS CAME to Texas from Monterrey, Mexico, in 1911. I was born in Asa, east of Waco, and I’ve got four sisters and six brothers. My daddy used to take us to Mass, and my parents loved Our Lady of Guadalupe.

My daddy also played the violin and took me one time to a Mexican fiesta in the country. All I could hear was the trumpet. So I said, “Hey, that’s the instrument I want!” From age 16, I was playing music all the time.

Then I went into the Army in ’42. They sent me to Riverside, Calif., where I became a bugler, blowing that horn all day long — taps, roll call, mail call, colonel calls, you name it.

We then went to England for three years, where I worked in the orderly room, delivered mail in a jeep and also brought wounded soldiers to the hospitals. I was never in combat but was in plenty of German air raids. Many of my friends got killed.

While in England, we got a band got together — The Ramblin’ Wrecks, about 16 pieces. We played for troops in the mess hall, as well as for the Red Cross and on the Queen Mary. In London, we backed up Bob Hope and Dinah Shore.

After the liberation of France, I played at the Eiffel Tower. From there we went to Munich, then Austria and back home. During the war, I always had a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in my wallet. I still carry it to this day.

I was discharged Jan. 1, 1946, and got married in May. I started a band, and my wife, Faye, was our booking agent. When a church asked me to play, I never charged them. Maybe that’s why God was so good to me with the music.

A couple of my brothers were already Knights and they encouraged me to join. That was in 1949, and I got really involved. I also helped out at the VA hospital, bringing people to Mass, making sure they had wheelchairs, getting telephones in every room.

We had three girls and a boy, and my son later became a Knight, too.

Bolesław Rybka

Bolesław Rybka

Bolesław Rybka Photo by Jonathan Bielaski

• Born June 1, 1920, in Warsaw, Poland

• Member of the Polish resistance Home Army (Armia Krajowa); participated in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944; sent to a German prisoner-ofwar camp

• Joined Order in 1987, and has served in various officer roles for St. Maximilian Kolbe Council 9612 in Mississauga and Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski Assembly 2176 in Toronto.

I WAS WALKING about the Krakowskie Przedmiescie in 1939, and suddenly I saw an old friend of mine who asked, “Do you want to join the underground army?” I was sworn in that day. We met in secret for underground military training, and it was also my duty to recruit more soldiers to fight the Germans, who had invaded that September.

In 1944, I fought in Powstanie Warszawskie, the Warsaw Uprising, which lasted 63 days. When Germans suddenly brought tanks into the city, we got the order to withdraw. Warsaw already was in ruins. There was no water and little food.

With the Home Army defeated, they forced us into transports to a POW camp in Mühlberg (Stalag IV B). In 1945, the camp was liberated by the American and British armies, and we were sent to a temporary camp for all Allied POWs, in Göttingen. That’s where I met Renata, my beloved future wife.

At this time, Renata and I made a difficult decision not to return to Poland, which was now under a communist regime. We heard of the Russian (NKWD) and Polish (UB/Urząd Bezpieczeństwa) communists who were persecuting Home Army soldiers.

I promised Renata that within a month we would be married in a church! And I kept my promise. We were married in a Roman Catholic Church in Porto San Giorgio, Italy.

We lived in England for a few years, where many members of the Polish Armed Forces began the next chapter of their lives. In 1953, we immigrated to Canada arriving in Montreal and then moving to Toronto where I live today. Before the war, I was a film student, and once we moved to Canada I began working for many years at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Later I opened my own studio.

All my life I have been very close to the Roman Catholic Church. My faith helped me through the war and through my life.

It’s been over 30 years since I joined the Knights of Columbus. Thanks to my late wife, Renata, I signed up one Sunday when the Knights were holding a membership drive. She said, “Bolek, join them! This is a good organization.”

It was my dream to one day serve my country again. Helping establish the Order in Poland, as a member of the Polish Degree Team, I accomplished that.

Donald J. Bolduc

Donald J. Bolduc

Donald J. Bolduc Photo by Gary Bolduc

• Born Jan. 1, 1925

• Navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force; flew bombing missions over Germany in 1945

• Joined the Order in 1959; charter member of Deloraine (Manitoba) Council 6647, where he served as chancellor and recorder for a number of years; named Knight of the Year in 2012 and 2018

I was born and raised in Lampman, Saskatchewan. When I was a young boy of 14, the war began in 1939.

At age 18, I joined the Canadian Air Force in Brandon. After learning Morse code in Calgary and navigation in Quebec City, we went to England for further training in December 1944.

I was a navigator on a De Havilland Mosquito Bomber Fighter Mark 6. We flew at night, and it was very important that there be very little light in the cockpit, so that we wouldn’t be seen. In order to see the map, I had with me in the airplane a flashlight covered with a piece of paper and poked with a hole the size of a pencil. Our instructions before each flight were written on rice paper. This was a very thin paper that could be eaten in case we were captured.

We flew at 240 mph, and it was the pilot’s job to release the bombs and fire the guns. It was my job to be sure he didn’t get too close to the ground. From an airport in Brussels, we made six or seven missions over Germany.

I’ll never forget the sight of being shot at. It was fingers of fire heading straight for you. Fortunately, we were never hit. I had a good friend who was also a navigator. One night, about a week before the war ended, his plane went down and he was killed.

It is almost impossible for anyone to truly understand what a war is like unless they have been through it. What we can do is remember those who lost their lives, for our freedom.

After the war, I married Rose Ruder in 1950 and we moved to Deloraine, Manitoba. We eventually bought a farm where I built a house. We raised our five children there, and today we have 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

I joined the Knights of Columbus in Brandon, Manitoba, and my brothers Lloyd, Willis and Ken and I became charter members of Deloraine Council 6647 in 1975. I’ve enjoyed being a member to this day. The K of C gives me a way to share and support my Catholic faith with the local community.