Archive of World War One letters and documents relating to a Polish immigrant’s service in the 26th Infantry Division’s 104th Infantry Regiment and his death at Belleau Woods on the first day of the Aisne-Marne Offensive. Private John Kocienski.

Archive of World War One letters and documents relating to a Polish immigrant’s service in the 26th Infantry Division’s 104th Infantry Regiment and his death at Belleau Woods on the first day of the Aisne-Marne Offensive

Massachusetts and France: 1917-1928. This grouping consists of 58 items: * Seven letters written by Kocienski while in France (two of the letters are written in Polish; one letter is damaged and incomplete), * One packet of 30 documents, letters, and notes related to his death and the payment of federal next-of-kin benefits (including Kocienski’s official naturalization certificate, death notification, and letters written by his commander), * One packet of 15 documents, letters, and notes related to payment of Massachusetts next-of-kin benefits, * Four letters related to payment of War Risk Insurance benefits, and * Two miscellaneous letters, one regarding the publication of a Gold Star memorial book and the other regarding a reunion of the 104th Infantry Regiment. Kocienski, born in what is today Poland in 1896, immigrated to the United States in 1912 and settled in Haydensville, Massachusetts where he lived with first cousin, Mary Antowska. The cousins had been exceptionally close since early childhood and had always referred to each other as brother and sister. When Kocienski enlisted in Army in early 1917, he named Mary as his beneficiary for all family and insurance allotments. Item #008993

Kocienski, born in what is today Poland in 1896, immigrated to the United States in 1912 and settled in Haydensville, Massachusetts where he lived with first cousin, Mary Antowska. The cousins had been exceptionally close since early childhood and had always referred to each other as brother and sister. When Kocienski enlisted in Army in early 1917, he named Mary as his beneficiary for all family and insurance allotments. Kocienski’s letters to Mary include descriptions of Army life in a combat unit and trench warfare: “We lost a few men but we slain about two hundred Germans and we taken number of prisoners and us taken a number of prisoners. . . . We have just came out of the trenches. I suppose you have heard about the good work our regiment is doing in the front line trenches. We have had some pretty hart times. . . When we are off duty we stay in dugouts . . . we have to be very careful of shells because they are very dangerous if they strik anywhere near you, you are out of luck. When we hear the report of the gun over in the German lines we can almost tell by the sound where the shell is going so we have quite a lot of time to jump for cover . . . if we happen to be out in the middle of a field . . . we just drop flat on our stomachs. . . . The hardest part [is] to stand on guard all night watching and listening. . . . Sometimes you hear a noise that sounds like a big German and pull you rifle up to shoot and the first thing you hear is the squek of a rat it makes your hair stand on end. . . . I thought I saw a lot of big rats in the U.S. but the rats up around the trenches are the biggest I have ever seen or heard of. They live in the dugouts too, and when you go to bed at night they have a fine time running up and down your legs and face.” The 104th Infantry first saw combat in April of 1918, and the entire unit was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for exceptional bravery and courage. In July of 1918, the 26th Division relieved the 2nd Division at Belleau Wood, where the 104th was almost immediately shelled with heavy high explosives and drenched in mustard gas. On the 18th, the regiment helped lead the attack during the Second Battle of the Marne in the Aisne-Marne Offensive. Kocienski was severely wounded in the initial assault and evacuated for medical attention, however he could not later be found and was listed for months as missing in action. Eventually, Mary was notified that he was killed and buried in an American cemetery in France after which she began receiving allotments as his next-of-kin, until during an administrative review, the Veteran’s Bureau (precursor of today’s Veteran’s Administration) discovered that she was Kocienski’s cousin and not his sister. Using his naturalization certificate, the Bureau determined Mary was ineligible for any benefits and instead began paying them to Kocienski’s father in Russia. Worse, the Bureau demanded that Mary return the thousands of dollars she had already received back to the U.S. Treasury. The packets of documents included in this archive provide fascinating insight into the grinding disdain and insensitivity of the federal bureaucracy as well as the dogged perseverance of her lawyers and her “brother’s” former commanding officer to prevent this travesty. It is unknown if they were successful. A unique and compelling collection that documents an immigrant’s ultimate sacrifice for his adopted country in World War One and the callous indifference of big government that followed.

Price: $800.00

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