Corporal A-217535, served in World War II.
Army Air Corps Clerk E-4 - General duties: Southwest Pacific for 10 months following up all engineering supply requisitions from office insuring their delivery to the place of request. Expedited delivery and where materials were not available at base, arranged their transfer from one installation to priority installations where needed.
Tactical area of responsibility - Southwest Pacific, Hawaii, Australia. Philippines, New Caledonia, New Guinea.
Irene H. (Zwolak) Zuchowski,
U.S. Women’s Army Corps
Medals and awards: Philippine Liberation Medal with Bronze Star, Asiatic Pacific Theatre, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal.
The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the women's branch of the army that was formed May 15, 1943, by public law 554. The corp went to full status in 1943.
The Army expected a full quota of 11,000 women and ended up with over 150,000 who served. It was modeled after the British Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. The first 800 began their training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The corps were the very first women to serve our country other then our military nurses.
General. Douglas MacArthur called the Women's Army Corp my best soldiers, stating the women worked harder complained less and were better disciplined. It must be noted that the 150,000 women who served released the equivalent of seven Army divisions of men. The corps disbanded in 1978.
Married: Daniel Zuchowski on May 5, 1947, at St. Hyacinth's Catholic Church in Dunkirk.
Children: Susan (Zuchowski) Johnson of Dunkirk; Karen (Zuchowski)Reynolds of Austin, Texas.
Grandchildren: Ronald Stahley of Houston, Texas; Melinda Stahley of Nashville, Tenn.; Keith Reynolds (wife Casey); Kendra Reynolds Towery
Irene H. Zwolak Zuchowski was born July 24, 1921, in Dunkirk at Brooks Memorial Hospital. She was the daughter of Frank and Anna (Pasierb) Zwolak. Her home on 20 Ermine St. made for a short walk to school while attending St. Hyacinth's. Later the walk doubled when she attended Dunkirk High where she completed her education, graduating with the DHS of 1939.
The Ermine Street home was a great place to grow up with sisters Angeline (Zebracki), Frances Zachary and her brother Richard Zwolak. Ice skating in the winter, swimming at Wright Park beach in the summer always brought fun for the Zwolak family. When she was old enough to get a job it didn't take her long to land work at Jordan's Newsstand. Irene sold magazines, books, cigarettes and after working for awhile was placed in charge of 45 newspaper boys.
As time passed, Irene was given the duties of making out bills for magazine routes, keeping comprehensive records of transactions and accounts and recording their movement. She made reports and statements as to the condition of the business.
She had a strong desire to serve her country. A new unit called Women's Army Corps was being formed. Irene and her friend were off to Buffalo to become the first women from our area to join.
They both were excited about being in the military, traveling and seeing the world. It all almost came to an end when her friend failed to pass her physical. Irene made the decision to continue by herself to boot camp. Her dream was to go overseas.
Her first assignment was leading calisthenics and drills for all new women recruits. Along with this she had her own classes to complete. Next she was transferred to Harlington, Texas to open a new training site for women.
For the next seven weeks she was the only woman on base. Later, as more women arrived, her new assignment was placing women in jobs for which they were most suited and which benefited our country. The women were treated no differently from the men. They had the same training and the same classes. Irene recalled going over high boards and fences. As the days went by she could tell she was in better shape.
New orders came and Zuchowski was on a 22-day ship cruise making her way to different stations in Australia, the Philippines, New Caledonia and New Guinea. While returning to base in New Guinea she remembers viewing skulls on sticks and even seeing hangings.
Women in the army were actually invited to view hangings as well as the Army men. While overseas, her new duties were to make sure all new orders were correct and that they were properly sent out to the front lines. Being attached to an engineering battalion, it was critical that all orders and equipment were sent to the proper place and received by proper personnel. Zuchowski recalled items and orders were cut every day.
It was common for her to fly from Manila in the Philippines to Kwagelian then to Johnson Island and finally to Pearl Harbor. The flights consisted of escorting and aiding around 40 seriously wounded soldiers each flight. The five-day trip resulted in stopping each night at an island to help feed and bathe the wounded. She recalled malaria and even cases of polio on some trips. These trips stayed with her even after the wars years ended. Memories of the wounded with limbs missing, men with battle fatigue and malaria patients just laying there.
Although women did not fight hand-to-hand, they did work sometimes within one mile from enemy lines. On many occasions being in a bombing area was common and was part of the job being in a war. This is how Zuchowski earned her three battle stars. Other jobs women performed were manning phones, supply and being quartermasters, the ones who ordered and shipped food. The food of the day in the South Pacific always seemed to be lamb and pineapple.
Compared to women in the Navy, the Army had a slight variation in their rules. A woman who was married could join the Army but she could not have any children. While there were no problems being a married women in the Army the revelation of being pregnant meant an automatic discharge. The same rules for dress applied with hair style off the neck. With the exception of rings and identification, no jewelry could be worn.
The war ended and Cpl. Irene H. Zwolak was headed to Fort Devens in Massachusetts to receive her honorable discharge from the Army. Upon her discharge she was offered a position with American Airlines, which after some thought she declined.
When asked by her daughter years later, "Mom would you have done this again?" Her answer was "Yes, if I was still young."
It was time to come home and start her life as a civilian. Her uncle owned a favorite Dunkirk first ward hangout, the College Inn on Roberts Road. He offered her a job as a waitress. Zuchowski enjoyed this job because of all her friends would hang out there. They had great times partying and lots of memories of their younger years. She married former classmate Daniel Zuchowski who worked at the Alco Plant and when its doors closed, he found work at the AMF Plant as a welder. She landed a position with the New York State Thruway working in Lackawanna, Buffalo and Dunkirk. The couple raised a family of two daughters and resided at 467 Lake Shore Drive East in Dunkirk. Irene and Daniel loved to travel and spend time with family and friends.
I went to St. Hyacinth's School with Irene's daughter, Susan, who only lived about a block and a half from my Wright Park Drive home. Not until last month had I realized that her mother, who I had seen many times, had not only served our country, but she served it during a war in a hostile area of the Pacific It also fascinated me that Irene Zuchowski, this lady who lived down the street was, according to her military records, the 17th woman, other than a nurse, who was sent overseas.
Irene was a local girl who could have just said no way am I going in the military. She easily could have stayed home.
She went into a new army unit that was organized with not a lot of details to job duties and assignments. She went into this war not knowing where she would end up and what officially her duties would be. There was no safe place after December 1941 for anyone who sailed past the Hawaiian Islands. No front lines, no safe duty stations, no date for her return
She was a local Dunkirk woman who just went and did her job. She did her job well enough to receive the rank of corporal, a non-commissioned officer. This girl from Jordan's Newsstand that years before had the responsibility of 45 newspaper boys and their routes during World War II carried the responsibility of having food, ammo, medical supplies and equipment sent to people who had needed them to continue fighting.
When she was young and worked at Jordan's a mistake would mean someone going without a newspaper for a day or a lost magazine. In the Army, one mistake would mean lives. I am so honored to have the privilege to receive these stories and free to write them as I hear or see them.
Many times I feel I haven't done enough justice in doing some stories. There is so much more to say, maybe more time on the computer could find more to be told. After I see them published at times I feel I didn't get the stories quite right. I hope I've done Irene Zuchowski's story right. She is a hero and helped write our local history. For this, Irene Zuchowski is our Hero of the Week.
We lost Irene Zwolak Zuchowski, a local hero, on Sept. 10, 2002.