ROXBURY, N.J. – Phil Weinpel knew his uncle died on D-Day, but that’s about all the longtime Roxbury resident knew about his 89-year-old mother’s brother, Edward Morozewicz.
He recently came to learn a lot more, and on Saturday he’ll be there at Horseshoe Lake Park when a wartime buddy of Morozewicz comes to Roxbury to posthumously give to the family of his long dead friend the Silver Star that Morozewicz earned 72 years ago.
The short life - and quick death by Nazi gunfire - of his 22-year-old uncle wasn’t something Weinpel’s mother spoke about often, said the Succasunna resident. Rose Morozewicz was only 16 when her Army medic brother died on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, said Weinpel.
An ill-fated member of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division - the “Big Red One” that stormed the treacherous shore on June 6, 1944 - Morozewicz was not forgotten by his sister. But his fate was “not something we talked about at the dinner table,” said Weinpel.
“My mother was just a kid when it happened,” he said. While “it was sad, losing her brother,” Rose Morozewicz was one of thousands whose siblings never returned from the war. Life had to go on.
But Weinpel recently learned a lot more about Army Private Edward Morozewicz, thanks largely to the efforts of a fellow D-Day medic named Charles Shay. He is a Penobscot Indian, living on a reservation in Maine, who survived the gristly summer of 1944 and wrote a book about the ordeal, a book that mentions Morozewicz several times.
In June, during a D-Day ceremony in France, Shay gave a short speech. He spoke of the mayhem and the bloodshed he witnessed that day. He mentioned his friend Morozewicz.
“Among the wounded was a fellow medic I remember to this day, Edward Morozewicz, a son of Polish immigrants, who was in my regiment,” Shay told those gathered at the somber ceremony. “Until my early 80s, I did not speak about the war. As one of the last survivors, I want to keep the memory alive of brave young medics like Morozewicz and American Indians (who fought in the battle),” Shay said.
Shay had long sought to find Morozewicz’s family. He and others had hit a wall, unable to locate the medic’s family. That changed recently when Weinpel’s wife, Diane, decided to create an account on Ancestry.com, a website that allows people to trace their genealogy.
A researcher from the First Division Museum in Wheaton, Ill. came across Weinpel’s profile. Before long, Weinpel was learning a lot about his uncle, about Shay and about the decades-long effort to find anyone related to Morozewicz.
“We talked to museum,” said Weinpel. “They said … Charles Shay, who was the last person to see your uncle alive, this past June during a D-Day ceremony in Normandy, reached out to the audience and said he also wanted his fellow medic to get same award he got that day ... They said Charles would like to present the medal to your mother.”
Shay's wish will come true at 3 p.m. Saturday at Roxbury’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. Weinpel, whose sons attended Roxbury High School, said he is hoping the high school band can come to perform the national anthem. He said Roxbury Boy Scouts Troop 159 Scoutmaster Bob Williams is expected to play TAPS. He said he now realizes his uncle was on special American patriot.