POLISH & POLISH AMERICAN DEFENDERS OF US PRINCIPLES OF LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
April 1st, 1945. Eighteen-year-old Walter Stojanowski recalls: “On our way to White Beach, planes were all over us. We watched a Kamikaze plane hit a ship. When we hit the beach, we went right into the caves, ordering soldiers to come out. If they didn’t, we shot flame throwers in.”
Stojanowski, a long time Staten Island resident, graciously visited me one sunny afternoon, holding in his hand a small red binder with a story to be told. And here is that story. One Pole’s travails in the Battle of Okinawa, and beyond….
“I was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed, it was then that I decided to join the Navy” he recalled. Too young of course, he waited until he turned 17, and then after some “red tape”, Stojanowski finally made it in.
Nicknamed “Walter San,” Stojanowski soon realized the perils of that inaugural mission. “One night in heavy shelling three of my buddies were killed. One of their skulls was split in two. It was like a nightmare” he said.
“My buddy Frank Viera of Bedford, MA told me during an air raid that he was never baptized, and he wanted to be (before it was too late). We went to the chaplain and I was his Godfather. Bombs were falling all over us as the chaplain poured water over Frank’s head” as he emotionally reflected.
On June 5, 2006, Walter Stojanowski boarded a plane and returned to Okinawa for the following week’s 61st anniversary scheduled memorial service. However, stunningly, he was the only veteran that showed up. However, all was not for naught.
The mayor, Tsuneo Chinen, went absolutely wild upon Walter’s visit, showering him with greetings, dinners, his personal car, and kimono-dressed girls! Stojanowski then donated to the local Okinawa museum his entire collection of 1944/45 photos he took of that historic WWII event. This was extremely significant because they had no photos of Okinawa during the war. The museum was ecstatic!
Above, a page of autographs from Walter’s red-binder. As I carefully turned each page of these fragile documents, I read the countless entries of 1944/45, hand written by Walter’s war buddies, most of whom are probably deceased. “To a fellow ship mate, I wish him the best of luck and smooth sailing” read one.