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News | Jan. 24, 2019

CPOs honor Cavite bombing survivor, hero

By Zachary Hada 55th Wing Public Affairs

Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only location to feel the wrath of Japanese aircraft in early December of 1941 – Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines, was all but destroyed. Many died and many more were injured.

One survivor, Navy veteran Chief Petty Officer Leonard Kulceski, watched the ship next to his own go down while he and the other members of his ship worked together to pull other Sailors out of the water.

Despite being faced with a life-altering experience, he proudly continued to serve. He spent the entirety of World War II in the South Pacific aboard the USS Otis as a submarine tender.  

“He was named the youngest Chief Petty Officer in the Navy which is the seventh highest ranking in the Navy,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Lisa Vrtiska, U.S. Strategic Command Navy Element senior enlisted leader. “When the war ended he came home and was still in the Reserves. He was called back in 1950 to serve in the Korean War.”  

Vrtiska was one of five chief petty officers who honored Kulceski at Hillcrest Hospice Care, Papillion, Nebraska, Jan. 18, 2019, as part of a program called “We Honor Veterans.”

The program focuses on veterans in hospice care and publicly acknowledges the military service and sacrifices made by them and their families. The CPOs were joined by Kulceski’s friends, family and Hillcrest staff.

Kulceski is from South Omaha, born to a family of Polish immigrants, and he wasn’t the only one to valiantly serve and protect our nation.

“Leonard had four brothers also serving in World War II,” said Joan Dorwart, Hillcrest Hospice Care volunteer coordinator. “One brother, Edmund, served in the U.S. Army and was a four year prisoner of war in Japan. John was in the Army and was in the second wave on D-day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  Joseph and Sigmund also was in the Army. I’d like to thank Leonard’s family, both living and deceased, who supported Leonard during his life.”

During the ceremony, Kulceski was presented a certificate, pin, blanket and a salute from the CPOs.

“Mr. Kulceski, we thank you for your service to our nation as a member of the U.S. Navy,” said Vrtiska. “We thank you for the sacrifices you made and your willingness to serve our country. You endured hardships and you were willing to risk your life to maintain our freedom. On behalf of the Department of Defense, and Hillcrest Services, please accept our thanks and gratitude. When you see this pin, know that your service to our nation is deeply appreciated. We salute and thank you.”