Ukrainian American Veterans remember military service since Revolutionary War

by Dmytro Bodnarczuk

Ukrainians have been living on the American continent since before the establishment of the United States of America and served in the Revolutionary War, as well as all wars thereafter. As America remembers its veterans this Memorial Day, we look at some of the contributions of Ukrainian American veterans and the Ukrainian American Veterans Association.

The Civil War

Gen. John B. Turchin was born Ivan V. Turchinov, in the Don River region. He entered military academy at the age of 14 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and graduated with honors as a second lieutenant of a Artillery. Col. Turchinov was on active duty in the Crimean War after which he was promoted to the rank of colonel. He went to study military science in Germany and England. Shortly after his stay in England, he came to the United States with his wife, Nadia. While in the U.S., he settled in Chicago working for the Illinois Railroad Company. When the Civil War broke out, Col. Turchin volunteered to serve and was commissioned as colonel on June 22, 1861. During the war he was known as the "Terrible Kozak." He was promoted to a rank of brigadier general, and as such commanded a cavalry brigade at the Battle of Chicamagua. He died on June 18, 1901, in a suburb of Chicago.

The Spanish-American War

There were several Ukrainians who took part in the Spanish-American War, April 25 to August 12, 1898, and the Philippine Insurrection in 1901. Among them Fetsko Kochan, a member of Company H, 21st U.S. Infantry, Manila, Philippine Islands, wrote about his war experience to the newspaper Svoboda, No. 19, in 1900. His description of combat was realistic in its brutality, yet there was also a sense of adventure.

World War I

During World War I over 30,000 men and women of Ukrainian descent served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Most of them fought with the expeditionary forces in Europe. According to Lt. Col. Leonid Kondratiuk, military historian, there were 24 Ukrainians who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Major Kocak, a marine, won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

World War II

Prior to and during World War II thousands of Ukrainian American young men and women joined the U.S. Armed Forces. They became professional soldiers. Many of them died young as heroes; others lived long enough to become general officers.

Peter Tomich was at his engine post on the USS Utah, December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. USS Utah was struck with bombs and torpedoes. Mr. Tomich remained at his post until the end, securing the engine on the capsized ship. For this he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Capt. Peter Melnyk, who in 1954 was promoted to the rank of general, fought the Japanese forces in the Philippines. After Americans surrendered at Battan in April 1942, he escaped and organized a guerrilla detachment composed of Americans and Filipinos that proceeded to attack Japanese military installations. The American Command became aware of his valuable guerrilla military tactics, and evacuated him by a submarine in 1943. For his gallantry in action, Capt. Melnyk received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Pvt. Nicholas Minue, born in western Ukraine, enlisted in the army in May 1927. During World War II, Pvt. Minue wanted to see action, gave up his sergeant's stripes and was assigned to Company A, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, which fought against German Africa Corps in North Africa. On April 28, 1943, his squad was pinned down by the German machine-gunfire. Despite the heavy fire, he jumped up, charged the machine-gun nest, killing eight Germans and chasing the rest from their positions. He was mortally wounded in this action. Watching his single-handed attack, Company A followed Pvt. Minue's lead and routed the enemy. Pvt. Minue paid the supreme sacrifice for his adopted country and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Col. Ted Kalakuka began his service on January 10, 1921, when he enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard. He entered the West Point Military Academy on July 2, 1923, and graduated in June of 1927. Col. Kalakuka became the first known Ukrainian American to graduate from West Point Military Academy. In 1940 he was transferred to the Philippines with assignment as plans officer and executive officer for the Quartermaster General, U.S. Army Forces, Far East. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in December 1941, Col. Kalakuka moved his headquarters to Corregidor. During one of his inspection at the front lines, he filled in as rifleman during a Japanese attack. For his heroism on the front lines, he received the Silver Star Medal, and later, two Oak Leaf Cluster medals, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart. Captured by the Japanese, Col. Kalakuka died of cerebral malaria on October 31, 1942, in a prison camp.

Korean War

After the World War II some 50,000 Ukrainian displaced persons entered the United States as permanent residents. When the Korean War broke out, men for military service eligible, not yet citizens, answered the call to join the United States Armed Forces. Some of them were in combat fighting expanding communism in Korea.

Wolodymyr (Walter) Holynskyj was born July 7, 1929, in Ukraine. He entered the U.S. Army in March 1951. On August 11, 1952, Cpl. Holynskyj's Company L 5th Infantry bunker received a direct hit. Without regard for his personal safety and exposing himself to enemy fire, Cpt. Holynskyj saved two wounded men. On September 2, 1952, he was killed in action. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with letter V, and the Purple Heart.

Vietnam War

Vietnam War claimed its share of Ukrainian Americans. Most of them were volunteers. They followed their fathers and older brothers into the U.S. Armed Forces. For many of them it was a sacred duty to fight communism, whereever it was, in whatever disguise.

Maj. Myron Diduryk was born in 1938 in Ukraine. He joined the ROTC at St. Peter's College, Jersey City, N.J., and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1960. During his second tour of duty Maj. Diduryk was killed by a sniper. Lt. Gen. H. Moore described Maj. Diduryk as the best battlefield commander he had ever known. UAV Post 30 in Freehold, N.J., has chosen Maj. Diduryk as its patron.

The Persian Gulf War

Ukrainian Americans also participated in the Persian Gulf War. They were: Lance Cpl. Michael Basset, Capt. Stefan Gorzinski, Maj. Richard Gula, Col. Hlib Hayuk, 1st Lt. Justin Hirniak, 1st Lt. Mark Hreczuck, Sgt. Roman Leskiw, Capt. Gerald Nestor, Lt. Yarema Sos, 2nd Lt. Adrian Sawczuk and 1st Lt. Andrei Tymiak. Maj. Francis L. Holinaty was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his participation in the Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm of 1992.

This roster of Ukrainian Americans soldiers who served in the America's wars is just a very small, but distinguished sample of actual numbers. There were many reasons for their joining the U.S. Armed Forces. Perhaps one of the more eloquent reasons was expressed by Capt. Gerald Nestor: "I'm proud of the Army I serve in, it is the best in the world. I serve the United States because I believe that I owe it a debt of gratitude for the haven it provided my family after World War II. But, I am never forgetful of the sacrifices our brothers and sisters in Ukraine have suffered and the dangers they faced in most critical times (by resisting Communist dictators)."

The UAV organization

Ukrainian American veterans were active in the local communities as individuals and as individual lodges or posts, but did not have a central national organization. During the 1947 Convention of the Ukrainian Youth League of North America, Walter Bacad, Michael Darmopray, J. Konchak, Joseph Lesawyer, M. Nasevich and George Wolynetz provided the necessary leadership to call a convention of all Ukrainian American veteran organizations. Michael Darmopray made thorough preparation for a convention to be hosted by the Ukrainian American War Veterans of Philadelphia on May 29-31, 1948.

About 60 delegates arrived from dozens of cities and towns. Michael Hynda presented a draft constitution and the by-laws for the new organization. After a lengthy discussion, the name Ukrainian American Veterans was adopted. The Ukrainian American Veterans League's emblem was adopted as the official emblem of the Ukrainian American Veterans. The Ladies Auxiliary Committee represented by Ann Mitz and Olga Cherenezsky was put in charge of organizing the women's component of the Ukrainian American Veterans organization. The second annual convention was scheduled to be held in Newark, N.J., on Memorial Day weekend in 1949.

The National Executive Board

The composition of the National Executive Board (NEB) changed from time to time depending on the need of the organization. Originally there were eight members on the NEB, but during 1991-1996 that number rose to 15, to include all past national commanders elected prior to 1992. The increase in the size of the NEB resulted from organization's expanded activities and needs and to facilitate representation of the posts from different geographical areas. NEB meetings are held three to four times a year in different cities in the U.S.

One of the activities the NEB engages in is the petitioning of the U.S. government concerning veterans' issues, such as a resolution in the 1980s about the 2,500 POWs and MIA's in Southeast Asia as well as a bill to improve veterans' benefits for former POWs. At times the NEB would send a message of support to the commander-in-chief. For example, they wrote to President George Bush: "We, Ukrainian American Veterans...wish to express our support of your actions in mobilizing the U.S. Armed Forces for duty in the Middle East."

The first convention in 1948 created a publicity committee to devise means of communication between UAV members and posts. Until 1989 national commanders published Newsletters under their own supervision, but at the 42nd National Convention in 1989 the UAV approved a new publication, The UAV Tribune.

The National Welfare Fund started to function in 1953. It started with donations of $1 or less, but over the years it grew to be an important component of the UAV organization. The leadership of PNC Emil Senkow and later Roman Bednarsky resulted in the growth of the Welfare Fund which was able to make 115 grants to needy members in the period of 1953 to 1996. The amount of a grant ranged from $50 in 1953 to $1,500 in 1996.

The Scholarship Fund was finally created through the efforts of energetic National Adjutant Michael Demchuk during the 48th National Convention in 1995. And for the academic year 1996-1997 NEB announced six scholarship totaling $1,500.

Local UAV organizations and affiliates

There were 38 active UAV posts at one time or another. One of the oldest posts was Post 1 in Philadelphia. It was organized in 1920 as the Ukrainian American War Veterans under the leadership of Michael Darmopray, who later spearheaded creation of the UAV in 1948. The most recently organized post was Post 36, in 1995, (Posts 91 and 101 were numbered out of sequence to commemorate special events). Over the years some of the posts have become inactive due to the disintegration of the Ukrainian American communities in certain large cities, and others because of attrition.

The Ladies Auxiliary existed at the individual posts prior to the 1948 convention. But it was not until 1974, under the leadership of Rosalie Polche, that individual post lodges were formally organized. Some of the most active and prosperous Ladies Auxiliaries were affiliated with UAV Posts 4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 17, 19 and 101.

The Ukrainian American Military Association, established September 29, 1996, in Chicago, Ill. and composed of active and reserve military personnel, voted to affiliate itself with the UAV. The UAV at its NEB meeting February 15, 1997, voted to honor the UAMA petition to affiliate.

Peace and security of the U.S.

The Ukrainian American Veterans organization pledges in its Constitution "To guard and defend the United States of America from all her enemies," and "To promote a spirit of peace and goodwill among all the peoples on earth." The members reaffirm this pledge every year at their national conventions in the form of resolutions that are sent to the Congress, and other government officials, and are reported in the Ukrainian press and the UAV Tribune. An example of UAV support of U.S. foreign policy is reflected in the 1985 resolution: "We commend the president for instructing the U.S. negotiating team in Geneva to maintain a strong stance with the USSR by insisting on compliance with past treaties before coming to terms on new accords that affect defense posture and technical research."

The UAV in many ways is like a confederation of states. Historically, posts were independent entities and established working relationships with other local war veterans, charitable, social and political organizations. Many UAV posts belong to county or state veterans coordinating councils. Their participation in activities includes arrangement of parades, commemorative services, and petitioning of local authorities for veterans rights and welfare.

Members of the UAV organization participate in various ways. In 1993 PNC Roman Rakowsky of Post 24 served on a committee to select an artist for the construction of a memorial for the Cleveland, Ohio, war veterans. In 1994 New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman appointed the UAV N.J. State Commander George Miziuk to serve on the state Ethnic Commission. And Dmytro Bodnarczuk of Post 19 was appointed by Rep. Benjamin Gilman to serve on New York's 20th Congressional Districts Veterans Advisory Committee.

At the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, some UAV members were on active duty in various capacities. Maj. Nicholas Krawciw was President Bush's special envoy to Ukraine dealing with the nuclear arms; Brig. Gen. Russ Zajtchuk advised on emergency medical cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine, and Lt. Col. Miroslav Malaniak and Master Sgt. Daniel Zahody served as interpreters in the U.S.-Ukraine military exercises "Operation Peace Shield" in 1995 and 1996.

The UAV and Ukraine

In 1948 the UAV Constitution promised to "... keep Ukrainian nationality in high esteem and respect." Since that time the UAV has dedicated itself to informing the American public about Ukraine, influencing U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine, and promoting social contacts with the people of Ukraine.

UAV members were directly involved in projects that are helping Ukraine solve some of the shortages created by the break-up of the Soviet empire. One of the projects was a release of medical journals by a veteran's administration hospital to a hospital in Kyiv. Dr. Ihor Zachary of Post 24 Cleveland was responsible for this transfer. The "Adopt a Hospital Program" project was organized by the UAV New Jersey State Department in 1993. This program has sent 38 containers of medical instruments and supplies to Ukraine.

Also, the UAV has several high profile members and friends such as Gen. Sam Jaskilka, Maj. Gen. Krawciw, Brig. Gen. Zajtchuk, Brig. Gen. Orest Kohut, Ambassador Roman Popadiuk, Reps. David Bonior and Benjamin Gilman, chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, within its ranks.

During the 50 years of its existence, the Ukrainian American Veterans, with the minimum of the material resources at their disposal, made a great effort to reach the goals set up in their Constitution. As the UAV celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is proud of the organization's achievements, as well as the achievements of each of its individual members. The UAV organization believes that it continues to have great potential in the Ukrainian American community and to further serve America.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May 24, 1998, No. 21, Vol. LXVI

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