The history of Ukrainian American military service is almost as old as the United States itself. Ukrainian Americans have served in every conflict since the American Civil War, and we continue to serve today.
Ukrainian Americans have a long history of service in the US Armed Forces. A few Ukrainians served in the Civil War; a few may have served in earlier wars as well. With the immigration of large numbers of Ukrainians to the US in the 1890s, several dozen Ukrainians enlisted in the US Army in 1898 during the Spanish American War. They were largely from Pennsylvania and all had been born in Ukraine. Their service was brief but significant to our history.
World War I Ukrainian American Military Service
In 1917 there was a substantial Ukrainian population in the US. There is no official record of how many Ukrainians served in World War I. The conservative estimate is around 30,000; but I believe that as many as 50,000 or more served. Most were born in Ukraine and immigrated as children or young men. Most were living in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. At least 24 were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; the Army’s second highest award for valor. All were enlisted men since they did not have the education to be appointed as officers. Nevertheless, they fought well for their adopted country.
First Ukrainian American Medal of Honor Recipient
In the 1920s, Ukrainian Americans began enlisting in the Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard. At least three National Guard units in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit were composed largely of Ukrainians. One such soldier was Nicholas Minue from Carteret, NJ, who enlisted in the Army in 1927. Minue was a professional private, only once rising to the rank of sergeant, with long service in the infantry. In December 1942 he was assigned to Company A, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division in North Africa. During the Tunisian Campaign in April 1943, the US Army was fighting tough, well-trained Germans. On 28 April, Company A was advancing on an entrenched enemy position when it came under heavy machine-gun fire.
PVT Minue’s squad was pinned down and unable to move. He fixed his bayonet and advanced toward the machine gun; he then killed the crew and eight other enemy soldiers. He continued his one-man attack and killed several more Germans until he himself was killed. For his heroic action, PVT Minue was the first Ukrainian American awarded the Medal of Honor. This is the stuff that Ukrainian American soldiers are made of.
First Ukrainian American Military Academy Graduate
Theodore Kalakuka was the first Ukrainian American to attend the US Military Aacdemy. He graduated in 1927 and was assigned to the cavalry. During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, he was a lieutenant colonel responsible for providing logistical support to US forces. For his service and gallantry he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and two Silver Stars. He has the sad mission of arranging the surrender of US forces in April 1942 and died in a POW camp six months later.
World War II Ukrainian American Military Service
Large numbers of Ukrainian American either enlisted or were drafted during World War II. Most were born in the US. Estimates are as many as 200,000 of use served during the war. A number served as officers. For the first time, Ukrainian American women entered military service as well.
Samuel Jaskilka from Ansonia, CT was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps in 1942. After a distinguished career, he rose to the rank of general; the first of two Ukrainian Americans to achieve the highest rank. Ukrainian Americans served in every theater of the war.
MSG Nicholas Oresko and PFC John Dutko were also awarded the Medal of Honor. On Iwo Jima, SGT Michael Strank and his squad erected the American flag on Mt. Suribachi in one of the most dramatic episodes of the war.
During the Korean War, thousands of men from our community served on active duty. A number of recent immigrants found themselves drafted into the US Army. They served with honor in Korea and other theaters.
During my service with the Department of Defense 50th Anniversary of World War II Committee, I had the opportunity to visit a number of overseas US military cemeteries. I noticed dozens of headstones with Ukrainian names. Many of our young men made the supreme sacrifice to help keep this country free.
Many from our community served during the Cold War. Nicholas Krawciw graduated from West Point in 1959. He achieved the grade of major general and served in a number of important positions in the Army and Department of Defense. He played a major role in reforming the Ukrainian Armed forces.
Vietnam War Ukrainian American Military Service
Several thousand Ukrainian Americans served in the Vietnam War. In the Ukrainian community it was expected that every young man would serve his country. It was our patriotic repayment to America.
Perhaps, the most famous Ukrainian American who served in Vietnam was MAJ Myron Diduryk of Somerville, NJ. As a captain he commanded Company B, 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division in 1965 in South Vietnam. During the Battle of the Ia Drang in November 1965, he played a key role in defending his position against several thousand NVA infantrymen. His brilliant defense is described in the book We Were Soldiers Once and Young. MAJ Diduryk is also mentioned in the Mel Gibson film “We Were Soldiers.” MAJ Diduryk was killed in action later in the war, as were a number of other servicemen from our community. On the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC are etched dozens of Ukrainian names.
Ukrainian Americans continued to serve in the US Armed Forces through the years. There have been a number of generals, colonels and sergeants major. In the 1990s Ukrainian American servicemen and women, mostly reservists, played an important role in fostering close relations between the Ukrainian and US Armed Forces.
Iraq and Afghanistan
A number of our men and women have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; many serve there today. Several have been killed in action. We honor their service and sacrifice.
Written by BG Leonid Kondratiuk, Past UAV National Commander. Originally posted in the UAV Post 31 newsletter, January 2020.