Museums work hard to preserve history, and at many you can find fascinating memorabilia and artifacts from World War II.
They serve as important reminders of the past—but it’s important to remember too that these were once part of someone’s life, uniforms and weapons held by real people in combat, some of whom are still alive today.
When one museum received a new item, they realized it told a fascinating story—which led to a very special reunion with its former owner.
At the beginning of the year, Winnipeg’s Ogniwo Polish Museum Society received a donation: a World War II uniform, once worn by a Polish Army soldier.
It was a green jacket and brown leather boots—but when museum archivist Marta Dabros looked through the pockets, she realized there was much more.
There were photos in the pockets that revealed the soldier’s story.
The old black-and-white army photos gave a glimpse of the man who had worn the uniform 70 years ago.
“I started looking through the photos that were in the pockets and it showed this really rich life,” Dabros told Global News.
Dabros was intrigued—and used the info to track down who this man was.
Her research revealed that the uniform once belonged to Lucas Kulczycki. He was a medical officer in the Polish army.
After the war Kulczycki moved to Manitoba, where he left his uniform behind, and went on to have a remarkable medical career in the United States.
“He moved to Boston and Washington and it turns out he was an amazing pediatrician, specializing in cystic fibrosis,” Dabros said.
But most importantly, Dabros discovered that Kulczycki was still alive, living in a retirement home in Virginia. With that news, she had an inspiring idea:
She wanted to return the uniform to Kulczycki.
“Of course the right thing was to send the uniforms back to him after all these years,” Dabros said.
She reached out to Kulczycki’s daughter, Dorthy Kulczycki Schilder, about returning the items. She was shocked to hear that her father’s 70-year-old uniform was actually being returned.
“I was amazed and surprised,” Kulczycki Schilder said. “It’s overwhelming that someone would have preserved his uniform for so long.”
She received the uniform from the museum—and decided to surprise her dad.
“We sat down and told him we had a special surprise for him,” Kulczycki Schilder said.
Kulczycki, now 106 years old, got to try on his old army uniform.
The uniform brought back a lot of memories for the elderly veteran.
“We put the jacket and the hat on him and it still kind of fit, it was a little snug fit,” his daughter said. “He smiled and he seemed to have some recognition of some of the items and photos.”
“It was really heartwarming.”
It was touching to see Kulczycki finally reunited with his old uniform, and inspiring that the museum would make the effort to make it happen.
And sadly, it turns out that they got it to him just in time.
Kulczycki died on May 3rd, just weeks after receiving his uniform.
It’s remarkable timing, and while it’s always sad when someone passes away it’s nice to know Kulczycki got to have this special moment reconnecting with his old memories, wearing his uniform for the final time.
And while Kulczycki may be gone, his story will live on in a special place:
His items were donated back to the museum.
While Kulczycki’s daughter appreciated that the museum returned the uniform, she decided the right thing to do was to return the favor and send it back, so it could be put on display.
“I think it would be much better to be displayed and his history along with it so we can share it with everyone,” Kulczycki Schilder said. “That’s what my father would like too, to share.”