Chet Walczak, long time Priest Laker and his sister Sally McCann recently honored the life of their brother Casimir F. Walczak, who died in Korea and who had been Missing-in-Action since 1950.
By NICK IVIE
PRIEST LAKE — Separated most of their childhood, siblings Chet and Sally Walczak were accustom to being away from their brother — but when the family reunited in 1950 to wish Casimir farewell on his deployment into the army they had no way of knowing it would be for the last time.
For the next 62-years the Walczaks had no knowledge to the whereabouts or well-being of their brother, but on Labor Day Sunday family and friends were finally reunited with Casimir during an emotional and impactful Military Memorial.
Private First Class (PFC.) Casimir F. Walczak, an infantry soldier with the United States Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, was deemed Missing-in-Action on August 17, 1950, during a battle to take *Hill 303, south of Waegwan, South Korea.
His remains were identified on September 23, 2011.
Despite often being referred to as the “Forgotten War,” Chet and sister Sally McCann never forgot about their brother and never gave up hope until a shocking phone call some 62-years later gave them at least a semblance of ‘peace of mind.’
“I was glad I was sitting down,” Chet said about receiving the phone call from the military saying they had positively identified Casimir’s remains. Adding that they now, “finally have some closure.”
Chet also expressed that he had some serious optimism but still hoped his brother could be a prisoner of war and that someday they would see him again.
They finally got that chance on September 2, and even though it wasn’t the face to face the family all sought, the 40-50 people gathered at the Priest Lake Marina were able to make peace with their fallen friend and hear the story of a soldier who fought and died bravely defending his country and all it stands for.
After only a short time with the army, PFC. Walczak would be awarded with the Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Award, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, the Bronze Service Star, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea Korean War Service Medal and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
With as beautiful of backdrop as you could ever find, friends and family made their way down to the shore at Priest Lake Marina to pay their respect — and the activity garnered the attention of numerous outside spectators including some additional Veterans of Foreign Wars who were very pleased with the ceremony.
Sergeant Henry Carr and a handful of Army soldiers were on hand for the playing of Taps, flag ceremonies, a 21-gun salute by the Military Honor Guard and the presentation of the cremated remains to the family.
Both siblings found the courage to speak at the memorial to honor their brother, and as Sally put it, “finally answer that knock they had been waiting 62-years for.”
“It’s hard to say this is final closure, but at least there is some closure now that he is home,” Chet said. Adding that he is, “still going through the whole thing in his mind” and wishing he simply had more time together with his brother.
Another speaker was Dr. Don Kim, who had never met Casimir but knew of his sacrifice and honored him for his service to a country he didn’t even call his own.
“Life is the most precious thing — and he gave his life to defend a Korea he never knew, and Koreans like me he never met,” Kim said. Adding, “I, and Korean friends are very deeply thankful to PFC. Walczak for helping South Korea to survive. We are honored to be here and sincerely hope Walczak can rest in peace — finally.”
Kim also expressed that the Korean War lasted three years and killed over 2.5 million people.
The Korean dignitaries all bowed in respect to the Walczak family before exiting from the ceremony.
Numerous incidents; including the American Flag standing at attention during the ceremonies entirety — only ceasing to blow in the wind immediately after the proceedings — an unidentified dog leading a stray family member to the right place, and picture perfect weather led some to believe divine intervention may have played a part in the memorial.
Regardless of who had a hand in making the memorial a success, be it God, an overlooking Casimir himself, or simply two siblings who strongly love their lost brother, the memorial proved to be a fitting end to a 62-year story that needed a strong finish.
And as Trace Adkin’s song Arlington said, “All those heroes who defend our flag will live on forever.” Because heroes always find their way home, finally make it to their resting place in Arlington — or in PFC Walczak’s case, inside his brother’s home on the beautiful Priest Lake.
*The Hill 303 massacre was a war crime that took place in the Korean War on August 17, 1950 on a hill above Waegwan, South Korea. Forty-one captured U.S. Army prisoners of war were machine-gunned by members of the North Korean People’s Army during one of the smaller engagements of the Battle of Pusan Perimeter.
After holding the group of mortar operators hostage, American forces eventually broke the North Korean advane, routing the force. As they began to retreat one North Korean officer ordered the prisoners to be shot so they did not slow them down.
The massacre provoked a response from both sides in the conflict. The North Korean commanders, concerned about the way their soldiers were treating prisoners of war, laid out stricter guidelines for handling enemy captives. Memorials were later constructed on Hill 303 by troops at nearby Camp Carrol to honor the victims of the massacre.
PFC. Walczak was not one of the 41 slain mortar operators, but lost his life during some capacity of taking and/or defending the hill.