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Infantry private receives medals earned 100 years late

Office of Rep. Brian Higgins

It took 100 years, but Pvt. Walter Rydzewski of Lancaster has finally received the Purple Heart and other medals he earned during World War I.

Local veterans and officials gathered Sunday to present the medals to Rydzewski's family.

“It is never too late to say thank you to our veterans," said Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo). "It is our honor to do that today as we present his family with a lasting expression of gratitude from the nation he faithfully served.”

Higgins was joined by New York State Assemblymember Monica Wallace, Depew Village Trustee Audrey Hamernick and members of the Depew American Legion Post 1528 and Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 187.

Less than a month before the war ended, the Poland-born member of the 326th Infantry was shot in the chest and severely wounded fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France.

Higgins said it was the largest battle ever fought by U.S. forces and led to an armistice that ended the war on November 11, 1918. However, the victory for Allied Forces also came at an extremely heavy cost, killing 26,000 Americans and injuring 95,000 more.

Credit Office of Rep. Brian Higgins

Rydzewski returned home to the United States along with other wounded soldiers. He later moved to Lancaster, worked in a local auto plant and got married. Later, however, he had complications from his battle wound and died in surgery in 1923 at just 30 years old.

In addition to the Purple Heart, the family received the World War I Victory Button and the World War I Victory medal with the France clasp, Meuse-Argonne Battle clasp and St. Mihiel Battle clasp. The was presented with a Purple Heart Certificate from the U.S. Army and a flag that flew over the Capitol Building in recognition of the sacrifices made by Rydzewski.