A library display helped a Bristol family discover their relative's heroic past

Published on Friday, 26 July 2019 19:24
Written by BRIAN M. JOHNSON

@brianjohnsonBP

BRISTOL – A World War II veteran display at the Bristol Public Library last November led a Long Island man to learn more about his great-uncle.

Scott Zukowski had been searching for information on his great uncle Bronislaw “Benny” Zukowski, of Bristol, who died in a plane crash in 1946, since the early 2000s.

“My family knew nothing about him,” said Scott Zukowski. “My father said that his father never spoke about the war to his family. We never knew how our grandfather’s brother died.”

Zukowski then attempted to solve the mystery. He said that he began searching for his great-uncle’s name on Google. In 2012, he hit a breakthrough when he found an article by city historian Bob Montgomery written in 2012 which had Benny’s real name, Bronislaw. The family did not know this was his name.

“Then, last November, I found The Bristol Press article about the display at the Bristol History Room of the library,” said Zukowski. “I was so excited to go and see it. From there, the flood gates opened.”

Zukowski visited the Memorial Military Museum Thursday, where he was able to look through a box of items that belonged to his great-uncle and was donated to the museum by another branch of the family.

“The Navy sent all of his belongings to Benny’s parents,” he said. “From what I understand, they looked over them once and then put them in a chest in front of the bed and never looked at them again.”

In the box were Benny Zukowski’s smoking pipe, still with ash and residue, maps of the south Pacific, Japan and the Philippines, his shaving razor and wallet with a picture of his fiancée at the time, Jean Piech.

“I hope to find out more about her,” said Scott Zukowski.

In addition, Scott Zukowski also found three family photos that belonged to his grandmother. They were originally sent by Benny Zukowski to his brother, Stanley, on Christmas 1943. They show Benny in his pilot gear and in his Navy uniform. When Scott Zukowski’s grandmother died, these photos came into his possession. He said that he plans to donate them to the Memorial Military Museum.

“It gives me shivers to think about everything I was able to see,” said Scott Zukowski. “Benny and his three brothers all served in World War II, which was an important part of America’s history. He was only 20 years old when he died, and his story had gone untold for so long. Now, our family can finally put a story behind those three pictures we had and understand who he was. This is really deeply meaningful for us.”

Scott Zukowski thanked the Bristol Historical Society, the Memorial Military Museum and The Bristol Press, for “their efforts toward the noble cause of preserving history.”

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.

SIDEBAR

The following biographical information was provided by Scott Zukowski about his great-uncle:

“Benny, one of 7 children of John and Victoria Zukowski of Bristol, turned 16 on December 7, 1941- the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Benny had spent two years at Bristol High School and was employed at New Departure in Bristol. With two older brothers, Walter and Stanley, already serving, Benny took a leave of absence from work and enlisted in the Navy on June 9, 1943. He’d be followed by his brother Henry.

He was placed in active duty on June 11, 1943, and transferred to the Naval training station in Sampson, NY. By Feb. 26, 1944, he’d completed his training in photography. By April 4, 1944, he’d completed his training in aviation free gunnery.

By June 21, 1944, he’d completed his aircrewman operational training, giving him the right to wear aircrew wings. His certificate of course completion was given to him “with best wishes for good luck and good hunting.”

Benny served as an aerial photographer in Fleet Air Photographic Squadron Five of the Pacific Fleet and earned his first air medal for completing five flights over defended enemy territory in the Bonin, Volcano and Cacoline Islands area from Dec. 21, 1944 to Feb. 17, 1945.

He earned his first Gold Star in lieu of a second Air Medal for flights over the Ryukyu Island area from March 13 to 22 in 1945. On these flights, he obtained photographs that provided strategic and tactical information about installations on many enemy-held islands and aided in the successful invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

He earned his second Gold Star in lieu of a third Air Medal on March 26, 1945, when he participated in the first long-range reconnaissance over enemy occupied territory, with no previous information on enemy defenses or installations, and remaining for a prolonged period of time to provide large scale photographic coverage.

His third Gold Star in lieu of a fourth Air Medal was earned for flights over the Ryukyu and Caroline Islands area from March 29 to May 2, 1945. On these flights, he gathered additional information that aided in the successful invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Having survived more than 25 missions over enemy occupied territory, Benny died tragically after the war was over. He was on a flight over the town of Atami, Japan with seven of his closest friends on March 11, 1946 when the Liberator he was flying in struck a mountain ridge at approximately 9 a.m. All aboard were killed instantly.

The first letter received indicated that Benny died “while engaged in a local flight.” A later letter from the Bureau of Naval Personnel says his plane crashed while on a photographic mission. His family always believed he died on his flight home. Benny was just 20 years old when he died.”

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Friday, 26 July 2019 19:24. Updated: Friday, 26 July 2019 19:27.