|Wilmington, Delaware||Automobile mechanic|
|European||Company “K,” 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division|
|Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge (presumed)||Normandy|
Author’s note: This article incorporates some text from my article about Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton, another member of the 29th Infantry Division.
Early Life & Family
Frank Kwiatkowski was born at 402 Spruce Street in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 9, 1923. He was the son of Antoni (Anthony) Kwiatkowski (a butcher, c. 1894–1953) and Apolonia (Pauline) Kwiatkowski (née Karczewski or Karczewska, c. 1899–1971). Kwiatkowski’s father was Polish, born in or near Warsaw (then part of the Russian Empire). Antoni Kwiatkowski departed Liverpool, England, aboard the S.S. Haverford on December 24, 1912, arriving in Philadelphia on January 9, 1913. Antoni and Apolonia Kwiatkowski married in Wilmington, her hometown, on November 7, 1916.
Kwiatkowski had at least eight siblings: an older sister, and older brother, five younger sisters, and a younger brother. One of his younger sisters, Apolonia Pearl Kwiatkowski (1927–1929), died of meningitis at an early age.
The Kwiatkowski family was recorded on the census on April 5, 1930, living at 302 (North) Lombard Street in Wilmington. The family had moved to East Hazeldale Avenue in Minquadale, south of downtown Wilmington, by the time of the next census in April 1940. His father and two older siblings were working in a slaughterhouse. The census stated that Frank Kwiatkowski had completed 6th grade. Similarly, his enlistment data card stated that he had a grammar school education.
Kwiatkowski was a mechanic before entering the service. When he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, he was living at a house near the intersections of Hazeldel and Harrington Avenues in Minquadale. He listed his employer as Baer Safety Service at 1910 Lancaster Avenue in Wilmington. The registrar described him as standing six feet and weighing 172 lbs., with brown hair and hazel eyes and a scar on his left thumb. He was Catholic.
“He was a great mechanic,” remembered his youngest brother, Tom Kwiatkowski. Tom recalled once sneaking up on his brother while Frank was working on a car—Tom was maybe six, so it couldn’t have been long before Frank was drafted—and popping an inflated brown paper bag to startle him. The boy then ran off with his brother in hot pursuit.
Kwiatkowski owned a car and two Indian motorcycles. He promised his kid brother, Tom, that he would give him one of the motorcycles if the youth stayed in school. Tom was heartbroken when their mother, Pauline, sold them after Frank’s death.
Kwiatkowski became engaged to Irene Hnida (1924–2016) around January 5, 1943, when Journal-Every Evening reported the news. The couple did not wed prior to his death.
Kwiatkowski was drafted at the same time as a buddy, Frank Cox (1923–1943). Their enlistment data cards stated that they were inducted into the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on February 18, 1943. Tom Kwiatkowski recalls that Cox and Cox’s parents came to pick up his brother so they could head to the induction center together. When they tried to leave, the car wouldn’t start back up. Pauline Kwiatkowski took it as an omen that the men would not return, remarking, “Oh my God, that’s a bad sign.”
The men must have stuck together in line at the induction center, since Cox’s service number was one digit higher than Kwiatkowski’s. A statement by one of his parents (probably his father) to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission indicates that Private Kwiatkowski went on active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on February 26, 1943. Shortly thereafter, Kwiatkowski and Cox attended basic training in the same training battalion at Camp Wolters, Texas. Kwiatkowski was a member of 3rd Platoon, Company “C,” 60th Infantry Training Battalion, while Private Cox was in 3rd Platoon, Company “D.” (After finishing his training, Cox joined Company “C,” 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, and was killed in action in Italy on December 1, 1943.)
On March 8, 1943, the day before his 20th birthday, Private Kwiatkowski wrote to his sister, Bernice, thanking her for the $5 she sent him as a present. He added: “I liked your card a lot. It makes me home sick thou[gh]. To think that everyone remember[s] me on my birthday. On the other hand, it makes a fellow feel like he has some thing to fight for.”
By June 30, 1943, Private Kwiatkowski was stationed at a replacement depot, Camp Shenango in Transfer, Pennsylvania. A. Kwiatkowski’s statement indicated that Private Kwiatkowski went overseas from the New York Port of Embarkation in July 1943 and arrived in England in August 1943. By September 10, 1943, Kwiatkowski was a member of Company “K,” 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.
The 29th Infantry Division had originally been composed entirely of men from National Guard units (primarily those from Maryland and Virginia), with Kwiatkowski’s company based in Centreville, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. However, the 29th Division was federalized on February 3, 1941, and personnel subsequently transferred into the division from other parts of the country. Kwiatkowski’s regiment been in the United Kingdom since the fall of 1942, when it arrived as part of the buildup prior to the invasion of France.
Private Kwiatkowski joined the 29th Infantry Division in the middle of training for the invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord. The division participated in a series of exercises including simulated landings at Slapton Sands, England. At the same time, on the other side of the English Channel, the Germans were rapidly building up fortifications, obstacles, and minefields on the coast of the countries that they occupied.
Combat in Normandy
Kwiatkowski was promoted to private 1st class effective June 1, 1944, days before he went into combat for the first time. His company shipped out on the evening of June 5, 1944, aboard a Landing Craft Infantry (L.C.I.).
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, at H-Hour (0630) on D-Day, another regiment, the 116th Infantry, led the 29th Infantry Division in the landings on Omaha. The 116th sustained devastating casualties in the process. Private 1st Class Kwiatkowski’s 115th Infantry Regiment landed about four hours later. His regiment’s casualties were relatively light. Germans occupying the village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer held out against elements of the 115th and 116th Infantry Regiments on the afternoon of D-Day, but the following morning, an attack by Kwiatkowski’s 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry finally overwhelmed the defenders.
Even with the beachhead secured, the grueling Normandy campaign was just beginning. The terrain partially neutralized the Allied advantages in naval, artillery, and aerial firepower as well as the superior mechanization and mobility of their forces. In particular, the Germans fortified the thick hedgerows that surrounded Norman fields. Dislodging them was a painstaking process.
On D+3, June 9, 1944, the 115th Infantry advanced into the Aure valley, with 3rd Battalion taking Colombières. That night, 2nd Battalion was badly mauled in a chance encounter with a German force that was withdrawing through Le Carrefour. After resting on June 11, 1944, 1st and 3rd Battalions led the 115th Infantry’s next attack, scheduled for D+6, June 12, 1944.
Early that morning, American artillery began bombarding the far side of the river Elle. However, as Joseph Balkoski explained in his book, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy:
The powerful barrage accomplished surprisingly little. For two days, the enemy had dug furiously into the hedgerows bordering the Elle, and their deep slit trenches and dugouts were nearly impervious to fire. […] Most German infantrymen were dispersed behind the front, where they dug secondary lines of entrenchments. Here German reserves could form for a surprise counterattack in the event of an American breakthrough.
Following the standard “two up, one back” doctrine, Companies “I” and “K” spearheaded 3rd Battalion’s attack while Company “L” remained in reserve. The 3rd Battalion journal recorded that at 0500 that day:
The Bn. Attacked strong enemy positions on the South bank of Elle River in vicinity of St. Jean-de Savigny (577719). “K” Co. on left flank of Bn. came under heavy artillery fire on L.D. [Line of Departure] suffering heavy casualties and became disorganized. Bn. crossed river in two groups, one consisted of one plat. of “L” Co. and one plat. of “I” Co. and Command group. No. 2 group consisted of remainder of Bn.
Indeed, in the opening moments of the assault, artillery or mortar fire killed Kwiatkowski’s company commander, Captain Louis I. Hille (1916–1944), and wounded the executive officer, 1st Lieutenant Robert S. Mugavin (1916–1976). In the ensuing chaos, only portions of two platoons from Company “K” managed to cross the river.
The journal continued in an entry at 0930: “Crossing completed. Very heavy enemy resistance along entire front. Attempt made to reorganize Bn. by flanking enemy that was pinning down group no. 1. In doing so group no. 2 came under heavy enemy fire[.]”
That evening, running low on ammunition and with no response to requests for reinforcements, the forward elements of 3rd Battalion withdrew back across the river. The daily morning report recorded Company “K” losses as five men dead and 28 wounded.
Though the 115th Infantry Regiment was exhausted, the Germans were too. The 29th Infantry Division commanding officer, Major General Charles H. Gerhardt (1895–1976), ordered the 116th Infantry Regiment into the fray, finally breaking the German lines. The following morning, June 13, 1944, Private 1st Class Kwiatkowski’s battalion crossed the Elle again, moved to the area of Couvains, and set up defensive positions.
Private 1st Class Kwiatkowski suffered a fatal wound to his lower back on June 14, 1944. He was one of four men in his company killed in action that day. The only entry in the battalion journal stated that at 1800 hours, “Defensive position came under heavy artillery fire. Suffered some casualties. Lost Ammo. truckand [sic] three M-29’s [Weasels].”
Kwiatkowski was initially buried on June 17, 1944, at American Cemetery No. 3 at La Cambe, France (Plot C, Row 9, Grave 161). After the war, in 1948, Private 1st Class Kwiatkowski’s family was given the choice of permanent burial in an overseas cemetery or repatriation to the United States. They chose the latter.
On December 14, 1948, Sergeant Victor D. Leonardis (1920–1991) escorted Private 1st Class Kwiatkowski’s body from New York to Wilmington aboard a Pennsylvania Railroad train. In Wilmington, the body was turned over to staff from the Mealey Funeral Home at 703 North Broom Street. Sergeant Leonardis remained in Wilmington to attend services on December 18, 1948. The Wilmington Morning News stated that there would be “solemn requiem mass in St. Mary’s Church at 9:30 o’clock. Interment will be in Cathedral Cemetery. Military rites will be conducted by Polish-American Post No. 3251, Veterans of Foreign Wars.”
Kwiatkowski’s parents were also buried at Cathedral Cemetery after their deaths.
Parents’ Birth Years
Most records list Anthony Kwiatkowski as being born in April 1895, though his headstone lists 1894. Various records place Pauline Kwiatkowski’s year of birth between 1898–1900, though her headstone gives 1899.
Special thanks to Lisa Kwiatkowski Aretz for the use of photos and letters pertaining to her uncle, and to Tom Kwiatkowski for sharing his memories of his brother. Thanks also go out to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo.
“3rd Bn Journal 115th Inf.” June 1944. World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_1220705228_0416-02087
Balkoski, Joseph. Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2005.
Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257000-00104,
Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1673/images/31297_212283-00468
“Engaged.” Journal-Every Evening, January 5, 1943. Pg. 11. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93879265/kwiatkowski-engagement/
“Frank Kwiatkowski.” Wilmington Morning News, December 17, 1948. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93879156/kwiatkowski-funeral/
“Irene (Hnida) Sulick.” The News Journal, July 8, 2016. Pg. 19A. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/105699926/irene-hnida-sulick-obit/
Kwiatkowski, A. Frank Kwiatkowski Individual Military Service Record, June 8, 1945. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/19585/rec/1
Kwiatkowski, Frank. Letter to Bernice Kwiatkowski, May 8, 1943. Courtesy of Lisa Kwiatkowski Aretz.
Kwiatkowski, Tom. Interview in Newark, Delaware, June 19, 2022.
Morning reports for Company “K,” 115th Infantry Regiment. June 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
Naturalization Petitions of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts For the District of Delaware, 1795-1930. Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1193/images/M1644_17-0120
“PFC Frank Kwiatkowski.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/51495572/frank-kwiatkowski
Shea, Jack. “The Third Battalion – 115th Inf. An Outline of Its Actions From D-Day to D+7 – Its Attempted Crossing of the River Elle.” Headquarters, Second Information and Historical Service, October 12, 1944. National Archives.
Silverman, Lowell. “Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton (1917–1944).” Delaware’s World War II Fallen website, May 17, 2021. Updated May 18, 2021. https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2021/05/17/private-1st-class-walter-s-brinton/
Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2006.
“State Soldier Killed, Two Are Wounded.” Journal-Every Evening, July 14, 1944. Pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93879213/kwiatkowski-kia/
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531892_00734
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00546-00524
World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=32751639&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=3297566
WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_08_00004-00931
Last updated on July 21, 2022
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