LACKAWANNA, N.Y. - Rita Dudczak glows with pride as she looks at old pictures of her father Vincent Mikolajczak.
Mikolajczak joined the army at age 18, and spent much of World War II in the Pacific theater. He even took a bullet to the hand in Panama. Rita has kept all of these memories and artifact of her dad for all these years, including a picture that her father carried with him throughout the war. It was an obituary listing, of his brother, who was killed in combat.
Vincent was 66 when he passed away in 1983, but today, three decades later, his service and sacrifice is being remembered with a long overdue honor. Monday Dudczak was given her father's Purple Heart for his injury in Panama, along with the Bronze Star and six other service medals. The medals were given to his daughter by County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
"We have some of the most important medals that anyone serving our country can receive," said Poloncarz.
The medals that are not only long-overdue, but as Rita found out, where the center of a mystery of sorts.
"We found a set of medals that were left with county government that were in a box abandoned in an office that truthfully had not been used for some time.and these were very important medals that we thought needed to be returned to the family," said Poloncarz.
Fran McLaughlan and his Erie County veterans Service Agency took it upon themselves to solve the mystery.
"Thank goodness for the internet." said McLaughlin who searched the web for Vincent's name, finally locating a death record, and ultimately his daughter, Rita in Lackawanna. "She's a wonderful lady and obviously comes from good stock, has a great father and it is my pleasure and honor that we got it to her."
As for Rita, she is just thankful, not only that her dad is finally receiving the recognition he deserves, but also that she will have these 8 lasting pieces of her father, that she can hold onto forever. "I wish that he could have been alive to see these medals for the sacrifices that he did."