Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — As a young man, Ed Kolek of Lockport flew as an Air Force pilot in over 46 missions in Europe during WWII, several of them during the French liberation.
On Thursday, the 91-year-old veteran was awarded a Legion of Honor medal from France in thanks for his service.
Mayor Michael Tucker, state Sen. George Maziarz, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, as well as American Legion officals offered congratulations and thanks to Kolek at a ceremony at the B. Dolan American Legion Post 410.
Honorary French Consul Pascal Soares pinned the Legion of Honor medal onto Kolek's jacket. When the consul apologized for making a hole in Kolek's jacket, the veteran joked, “These are the most important holes I've ever had in a jacket.”
Kolek joined the Air Force as a 21-year-old in 1943. He was active in Europe from July 1944 through May 1945, in which time he piloted B-24s and B-29s in 47 missions. “I was never afraid in combat, because I was always ready to accept the worst,” Kolek said, “When the day was over and I made it back, I'd figure that it wasn't a bad day.”
After the war, Kolek continued to serve in the Air Force Reserves for 39 and a half years, before retiring from Niagara Falls airbase as a lieutenant colonel.
The Legion of Honor award was instituted in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It honors extraordinary services to France. President Francois Hollande of France authorized Kolek's award.
“We French will never forget what those men did to restore our freedom,” Soares told the room full of American Legion members. “My mother and father remember the Nazis coming in and occupying our town, and then your men coming in and liberating us, and for them I'd like to thank you.”
Kolek's daughter, Loretta Kolek, said that they first learned about the award through a WWII bomber veteran's group reunion which they attend every 18 months. “We sent in an application to the French government, and they sent back a letter saying that he received the award,” she said.
Stanley Maziarz of North Tonawanda was also present at the ceremony. The WWII vet, 91, was awarded the Legion of Honor medal in 2011. “We're brothers by marriage,” Kolek said, as the two stood side by side with matching medals. Kolek's brother married Maziarz' sister.
Contact reporter Kaley Lynch at 439-9222 ext. 6245