Patriotism is a core principle of the Knights of Columbus — which is why, after Nazis invaded Poland and after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, K of C members were among those fighting for freedom. In total, more than 75,000 Knights served and many of them were recognized not only for their gallantry and bravery, but also their compassion and devotion to God.
These are only a few of the many distinguished Knights who served during World War II:
First Lt. Kisters, a member of Bloomington Council 1096 in Bloomington, Ind., served in the Sicily campaign during the war. In one instance, he was tasked to fill a “large crater” in the only available route for vehicles. However, there were several enemy posts with machine-guns. After capturing the first post, he advanced alone. Despite being struck five times by enemy bullets, he survived and captured the other machine-gun post. For his “unhesitating willingness to sacrifice his life,” he received the Medal of Honor — the highest honor in the military.
Capt. Bianchi, a member of St. Patrick’s Council 1076, posthumously received the Medal of Honor after he led a group of U.S. troops and Filipino scouts to eliminate two enemy machinegun nests. He survived the mission, suffering several wounds, but was later captured after the fall of Bataan in 1942. Bianchi suffered through the Bataan Death March, but according to eyewitnesses, he was known for his compassion and focus on his comrades’ health. He died on a Japanese prison ship after it was mistakenly bombed by Allied planes.
On August 19, 1942, Lt. Junkin — a member of Council 1034 in Natchez, Miss. — had to abandon his plane after it sustained heavy damage while supporting landings at Dieppe, France. But not before becoming the first American fighter pilot to gain a victory in air combat over Europe. For that, he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Father Francis Sampson
Father Sampson served as the 101st Airborne Division’s chaplain. He was one of the thousands of paratroopers part of the Allied Invasion of Normandy —D-Day — and tended to the wounded. For his efforts, he was nominated for the Medal of Honor and received the Distinguished Service Cross. His friendship with Sgt. Frederick Niland — another paratrooper and Knight — would later inspire Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.
A member of Utica, New York, Council No. 189, Dziecheiowski was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. In one event, an Allied tank destroyer was fired upon and disabled by an enemy tank and anti-tank gun. Dziechciowski, a platoon sergeant, and other members of the crew remained in their vehicle and fired upon and silenced both the enemy tank and gun. Then they covered the successful withdrawal of the infantry, and left their vehicle only upon depletion of ammunition and rendering their gun and radio useless to the enemy.
After the fall of Bataan, Col. Grashio, a fighter pilot, became a prisoner of war in which he endured immense torture during the Bataan Death March and life in the prison camps. By April 1943, he and other soldiers had enough and decided to escape. During the aftermath, Grashio helped lift the escapees’ spirits with prayers to Our Lady. After the war, he wrote a memoir, writing that through all the hardships “God had seen me through a miracle.”
A first generation American and expert marksmen, Benko — a member of Council 863 in Bisbee, Ariz. — became an ace in the air force in the Southern Chinese theater of the war. In one instance, his plane was attacked by nearly 60 enemy fighters. For 40 minutes, Benko had to fight them off, which he successfully did. Benko was recognized for his heroics in an interview with the Associated Press. He made the ultimate sacrifice only a few weeks later when he had to abandon his plane due to a malfunction.
Sgt. Courtney, a member of Port Huron, Michigan, Council No. 521, was awarded
the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in action in France, July 10. The text of the citation follows: "When the regimental commander and his staff were on an inspection tour of the forward areas they were suddenly subjected to intensive enemy fire. Private Courtney immediately rushed into an open area with some riflemen and an officer in order to draw the enemy fire away from the commander's party. They then attacked the enemy directly and eliminated them.” He later wrote a book in which he recalled, “Somehow, based on my faith in God, I believed that I would never be hit. …I am still grateful to the Lord for protecting me.
Father Joseph LaFleur
Father Lafleur, a member of Council 2281 in Abbeville, La., was in the Pacific Theater of the war and received the Distinguished Service Medal, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service during the Japanese attack on Clark Field in the Philippines and in the prisoner of war camps. Nearly 200 American prisoners converted to Catholicism because of Father Lafleur’s service as a chaplain in POW camps. He is now on the path to sainthood.
Carew — a member of Council 141 in Medford, Mass. — was already an experienced soldier after serving in World War I. He was cited for bravery twice and received the Purple Heart. When war came again, Carew joined up. He again was recognized for his bravery when he organized a boat crew to rescue U.S. troops stranded in the water after being attacked by the Japanese, all while under heavy enemy fire. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
This Knight from Council 397 in St. Paul, Minn., was not only a soldier, but also a U.S. Congressman. During the war, Maas was awarded the Silver Star by General Douglas MacArthur for gallantry in action while serving as an aviation observer in air battles at Milne Bay, New Guinea. He was also under fire at Port Moresby and in the occupation of the Solomon Islands and saw action at the Battle of Okinawa. He was later decorated Major General of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
We remember these Knights and all who served their country, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
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