‘It’s just the right thing to do’: Veterans invested in mission to return belongings to WWII private’s family

  • Paul Dejnak’s belongings related to his service in World War II. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Paul Dejnak’s belongings related to his service in World War II. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/27/2022 5:40:39 PM
Modified: 5/27/2022 5:38:42 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Members of Canaan, Vermont’s American Legion Northland Post 47 hope to connect with family of late World War II veteran and lifelong Turners Falls resident Paul Dejnak to pass along belongings related to his service.

According to Post Commander Scott Leigh, the American Legion received Dejnak’s memorial flag, campaign hat, Purple Heart and certificate, and an era-correct 8-by-10-inch framed color photograph of him in his uniform from Tim Owen, a Pittsburg, New Hampshire resident who had become acquainted with Dejnak after helping him move into his Pittsburg residence years ago. Owen, not sure where to bring the items, had suggested the American Legion display the items themselves to celebrate Dejnak’s legacy. Instead, Leigh is determined to find a more personal place for Dejnak’s belongings, reasoning that Dejnak had no affiliation with his post in particular.

“It doesn’t do it justice,” Leigh said of the idea to display the items at his post.

According to a briefing from veteran and post member Doug Ahlstrin, Dejnak had served in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Dejnak’s obituary reveals that before his death on August 22, 2008, at the age of 90, Dejnak had achieved the rank of Private First Class within the Army. He had also served Montague in various capacities, such as being the supervisor of the Wastewater Treatment Plant and the caretaker for Our Lady of Czestochowa Cemetery.

Despite spending so long a life in Turners Falls, though, the American Legion post was unsuccessful in its search for local relatives.

“According to the individual who dropped off the items, and to our knowledge, Mr. Dejnak has no relatives or ties in the area, which includes northern Vermont and New Hampshire,” Ahlstrin wrote.

Tim Niejadlik, director of the Greenfield-based Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services District, said “it’s sad, but it’s very common” for those looking to return belongings to a veteran’s family to discover that no relations remain.

“Sometimes, these guys are the sole survivors, especially these World War II veterans,” he said.

Regardless, Niejadlik said it is important for veterans’ organizations to do their “due diligence” in locating these families so that they might “carry on their family member’s memory and make sure they know what their family member did.”

Veteran Al Cummings, who serves as chair of the Montague Soldiers Memorial Committee, said he learned firsthand the importance of receiving these belongings after his brother was killed in Vietnam.

“What it meant to me and my family is that some of the stuff he had, we didn’t realize we had,” Cummings said. “He ended up getting a Bronze Star and we didn’t know that until probably a month later.”

Summing up his investment, Leigh, who served two tours of combat over 21 years in the Army, kept it simple.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.

Leigh encourages those who were close to Dejnak to reach out to him at his home number at 802-266-3079, his cellphone number at 603-331-2485 or his email at sleigh1992@yahoo.com.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy