Photographs are everywhere in the Sawicki home—on the walls, on tables, in scrapbooks. But the largest photo is a portrait of James Sawicki at about 80 years old, wearing his Army uniform.
Sawicki died at his Dale City home on Feb. 7 at the age of 90. He served in the Army for 20 years and later became an expert on the history of the Army, working at the Institute of Heraldry. He was the author of at least eight books, chronicling the Army's infantry regiments, cavalry regiments, tank battalions, and more.
Sawicki's widow Mary describes her late husband as a military historian and a proud husband, father and grandfather. He enjoyed telling the story of the military, including his father's service, and his own.
Sawicki's enthusiasm for led Prince William County police officer Greg Pass to begin the with the American Wartime Museum. The project is a collection of videos giving American war veterans the opportunity to tell their stories from their perspective.
Pass first met Sawicki while he was working on a book to collect the stories of World War II veterans related to members of the Prince William County Police Department. "His interview left an impression on me," Pass said.
"It was a nice spring morning. He invited me out on his porch and we had a chat for about three hours," Pass said. "His eyes glowed and he had the same type of motivation and excitement as a teenager enlisting in the U.S. Army back in the 1930s. He was proud of his service, but he was humble."
"It's a classic example of a guy from the greatest generation."
James Sawicki's father, Meczyslaw, emigrated to the United States from Russia at a young age and later joined the U.S. Army, serving in the 1st Infantry Division and earning the Silver Star and a purple heart during World War I.
Born at Fort Dix, N.J. on March 6, 1921, Sawicki followed in his father's footsteps, enlisting in the Army in 1938, and serving in the same horse-drawn artillery unit as his father. He was supposed to be discharged from the Army on December 11, 1941. That is, until Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7. "When I went up to headquarters, they tore up my papers in front of me," he recalled in Greg Pass's book, "Scrapbook of Heroes."
Pass writes that when Sawicki realized he was in the service for the duration of the war, he enrolled in Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. In 1944, he was sent to Italy, where he saw his first combat at Cassino. "That’s where I had my baptism of fire," he told Pass.
In May of 1944, Sawicki was wounded in battle near Anzio, Italy, when he caught shrapnel from an artillery shell in his neck. After spending time in various hospitals, Sawicki returned to the United States after the war ended in 1945.
The next year, he was assigned to Europe to gather reference documentation for the Army. That tour took him to England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland.
After being discharged from the Army in November 1946, Sawicki took a job with the U.S. government, doing investigative work in Austria and Germany until he returned to the U.S. once more in 1950.
In 1952, the Army recalled Sawicki to active duty, and he served in Korea as a platoon leader. In 1955, he was once again discharged from the Army, but this time he reenlisted as a Sergeant First Class, serving as an ROTC instructor at Western Maryland College.
In a letter to his family dated 2001, Sawicki wrote, "In June 1955 I was swept off my feet by a young girl; her name was Mary Osbourne." They dated for three months, and were married in August of 1955.
"I was a child bride," Mary Sawicki laughed, "at the age of 16."
"He told me years later, 'I knew the minute I set my eyes on you, that was it,'" she recalled. "He said, 'I met the sweetheart of my life.'"
The Sawickis had three children, Linda, born in 1956, Debbie, born in 1959, and John, born in 1970.
Three years after James Sawicki retired from the Army in 1964, he and Mary moved to the new development of Dale City. They were the second family to move into the the Darbydale neighborhood, and their house was surrounded by woods.
It's changed a lot, Mary Sawicki said. "It's the strangest thing," she said. "To look at it now and see all the houses and hardly any trees."
Mary said the she and her husband have met many wonderful families in their years in Dale City, but they are the only original owners still living on their street. "All the others down the street have been sold and resold," she said.
James Sawicki worked at the Institute of Heraldry at Fort Belvoir for 20 years, becoming an expert on the history and the insignias of the U.S. Army. "That was one job that he considered not a job," Mary said. "It was enjoyment for him."
Sawicki's funeral was held the Saturday after his death at the First Church of the Nazarene on Smoketown Road. The congregation sang Amazing Grace, Sawicki's favorite hymn.
Sawicki was buried in his uniform. Many of those attending the funeral also wore their military uniforms. Mary said both had been her husband's request. "He was a very proud American, and proud of serving his country."
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