Published: 7 January 2024
writing for unknown publication
EAST WINDSOR, Conn. — When Joe Janeczko learned that, after more than a century, his grandfather would finally be recognized for his service during World War I, he wondered if Pvt. Anthony Butenas would soon become the answer to a trivia question.
“East Windsor may become known for having the last World War I veteran to receive a Purple Heart,” he said.
Butenas, who served in Company E, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action on July 18, 1918, in France, when he was 24 years old.
On Thursday, Butenas’ family was presented with a medal that he never received himself. Butenas died in October 1962 at 68 and was interred at St. Catherine’s Cemetery in Broad Brook.
Janeczko said getting Butenas the recognition he deserved was a long, complicated and uncertain process, fueled in part by a fire that destroyed a large swath of military personnel records.
He said the search began years ago, when he became interested in his grandfather’s history. He said he obtained a copy of Butenas’ medical records, but they lacked many important details that he remembered.
“I knew he had lost sight in one eye during the war,” Janeczko said. “He never had a Purple Heart, no medals.”
The Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to members of the U.S. military. Originally called the Badge of Military Merit, the first three were given out by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. All three men — Daniel Bissell of Windsor, Elijah Churchill of Newington and William Brown of Stamford — were from Connecticut.
When the U.S. military reinstated awarding the Purple Heart to service members in 1932, it was given to those wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917.
Janeczko said when he learned that the Purple Heart medal applied retroactively to some World War I veterans, he reached out to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office to get help in recognizing his grandfather’s service.
Janeczko said neither he nor Blumenthal’s office had much luck until he found an old, yellowed piece of paper detailing Butenas’ service, including when and with whom he served, which battles he participated in, and wounds he received during his service.
“No pun intended, but this was the smoking gun,” Janeczko said.
The process moved along quickly once the records were found, Janeczko said, allowing his grandfather get the recognition he deserved over a century after he was wounded.
Soldiers like Butenas had to come home and go back to “regular” life after the war, Janeczko said, despite their injuries and hardships.
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