A family reconnects with a war hero

February 5th, 2019

Toni Lesinski was a little girl when her uncle Teddy passed away in 1955. Toni doesn’t have many memories of her uncle. She remembers that he was in a wheelchair because of an injury sustained in World War II. She remembers how tenderly Teddy’s wife, Helen Jean, cared for her husband. 

Wedding photo of Helen Jean and Teddy Kaczor

Over the years, Toni heard stories about uncle Teddy. His valor in the war. How Helen Jean was his nurse in the hospital, and they fell in love. How the Hamtramck community welcomed back its war hero and raised funds to build a home to accommodate his disability. How a Hollywood actor donated a car to Teddy that he could operate with just his hands, since he was paralyzed below the waist.

Toni had these stories, but nothing tangible to focus her thoughts and prayers. Memories abide in things, and such things that were meaningful to her uncle could not be found, she had thought. Toni didn’t even know where her uncle was buried so she could honor his sacrifice graveside.

Teddy Kaczor was a Private First Class in the Army’s 503rd Parachute Infantry. He was only 26 years old when shrapnel tore into his spine during a battle against the Japanese military in the Philippines. Teddy was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star. The letter that Teddy received about his Silver Star citation described his “gallantry in action” on January 4, 1945: 

“During an attack on a well fortified enemy garrison, a call was sent out for volunteers to evacuate casualties across an open town square exposed to sniper and machine gun fire. These men immediately volunteered. While carrying the wounded across the open terrain they came under heavy enemy small areas fire and although two of them were seriously wounded by a hand grenade explosion, they continued to carry the casualties from the area. The conduct of these men, with utter disregard for their own safety, is worthy of the highest traditions of the military service.”

Teddy died a month before his 37thbirthday. His grievous war injuries took a toll on his health and lifespan. Helen Jean eventually remarried and became H. Jean Gates. She preferred to be called Jean. She made a new life and, in the course of time, lost contact with Teddy’s relatives.

Jean outlived her second husband, Joseph, and she died in 2015. Jean and Joseph did not have children. 

When she drafted her will, Jean decided to make a donation from her estate to an organization that helps veterans in need rebuild their lives. Her trustee suggested Southwest Solutions’ Piquette Square for Veterans, which provides housing and support services for 150 formerly homeless veterans.

Jean had meticulously stored Teddy’s war medals and articles and letters related to his service. After Jean’s death, her trustee asked Southwest Solutions to exhibit this memorabilia at Piquette Square. We arranged the items in an enclosed case, and proudly displayed it. 

There is a continuity of sacrifice from generation to generation in the service of freedom, and Teddy’s heroism is threaded in this sacred cord.

One of Teddy’s medals in the case became dislodged last year, and we removed the display from Piquette Square to repair it. During this time, two Southwest Solutions’ employees, Dan Loacano and Dan Pederson, decided to try to locate Teddy’s relatives so they could connect with these precious mementos and this important chapter of family history.

The sediment of time and other layers complicated the search for living relatives. So the two Dans contacted an expert researcher on veterans: Anne Audette. Anne graciously volunteered to take on the challenge, using information in the documents in the display as clues.

Anne’s research eventually led her to Teddy’s niece, Toni. Toni and her husband Dave are both retired teachers, and they have become increasingly interested in their family history and the things handed down from generation to generation. Toni and Dave were overjoyed when they were told about the remembrances of Teddy’s service. They recently came to Southwest Solutions to view the display.

Toni and Dave Lesinski flanked by Southwest Solutions’ Dan Loacano (left) and Dan Pederson

“This has opened up a wonderful adventure for us,” Toni said. “Our children are grown now and they, too, with children of their own, have become more interested in our family’s past. We’re excited and inspired to learn more about Teddy.”

Because of Anne’s research, Toni now knows where Teddy is buried. She and other family members intend to make the pilgrimage to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield to pay their respects.

The display of Teddy Kaczor’s memorabilia will be back at Piquette Square soon. If you would like to view it and learn more about Piquette Square, please email Chery Allen.

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