John Walter Gorczynski was born on 18 September 1920, in LaSalle, Illinois. He was the youngest child of John and Barbara Klimala Gorczynski. His father, John Sr. had immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1909. Two years later John’s mother, Barbara, left Poland for America with her two-year-old son Wladyslaw (Walter) to join her husband in LaSalle.
By 1920, John’s parents had at least five more children including John Jr. John Sr. was working in the furnace area of the local zinc works, and he and his wife had bought a home at 222 Sterling street in the southeastern part of LaSalle. John attended St. Hyacinth parochial school along with his siblings. Most likely Polish was still spoken in his home during John’s childhood, his family may have attended the Polish masses held at their parish—St. Hyacinth’s Catholic Church.
Once an adult, John started working for Westclox—a local clock factory where both of his older sisters Joan and Stella worked. When the draft started, his older brothers Bernard and Walter, who were both married, registered in October 1940. Two years later, on 16 February 1942, at age 21, John also registered. At the time he stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 150 pounds with brown eyes and brown hair. He had a large scar above the elbow of his left arm, although the cause of this injury is not known.
John changed employment after registering for the draft taking a job with Carus Chemical Company in LaSalle. Soon after, he entered the U.S. Army on 17 December 1943, and was assigned to the 48th Replacement Battalion. In July 1944, this unit took part in the Normandy Campaign. A morning report dated 22 July 1944, indicates John was transferred to Company A of the 331st Infantry in the 83rd Division. At the time John entered the 331st, it was located 2.25 miles southeast of Sainteny, France and attempting to cross a swamp to the La Varde Peninsula. They were unsuccessful. And at some point in the operation, Private John Gorczynski went missing. On the August 3rd Morning Report, John Gorczynski was noted as MIA as of 20 July 1944—he was 23 years old. The U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans indicates he was awarded the Purple Heart. For his service, he would have also received the Combat Infantryman Badge and the following medals: American Campaign Medal, Europe/African/Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
John’s remains appear to have been recovered because in 1948 his body along with those of two other veterans from LaSalle—Private Edward Pilch and Sergeant Frank Novitski—arrived home from overseas. He was buried in September 1948 in St. Hyacinth Cemetery in LaSalle.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 421,000+ of the US WWII fallen saved on Together We Served and Fold3. Can you help write these stories? These stories will be accessible via smartphone app at any war memorial or cemetery.
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SBTS Contributing Historian, Pam Broviak
You can also access this story at the following sites:
- 1930 U.S. Census, Ancestry.
- 1940 U.S. Census, Ancestry.
- New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, SS Kroonland, 3 March 1909, Jan Gorczynski, Line 28, Ancestry.
- Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., Passenger Lists, 1820-1964, SS Main, 4 March 1911, Barbara and Wladyslaw Gorczynski, lines 17 and 18, Ancestry.
- U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1970, John W. Gorczynski, Ancestry.
- U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, John Walter Gorczynski Jr., Ancestry.
- Unit Citation and Campaign Participation Credit Register, U.S. Army, Google Books.
- Company Morning Report, 22 July 1944, 83rd Infantry Division Website.
- Company Morning Report, 3 August 1944, 83rd Infantry Division Website.
- June 25, 1944 to July 5, 1944 (11mb) Account of Lt. Col. Neilson, CO 1st Bn, 331st, 83rd Infantry Division Website
- After Action Report, Headquarters 331st Infantry, APO 83, United States Army, July 1944, 83rd Infantry Division Website.
- 331st Infantry Regiment Unit History for 1944, 83rd Infantry Division Website.