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Joseph A. Lesniewski (29 August 1920 – 23 May 2012) was a soldier with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. Lesniewski was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Simon Schatzberger. He was one of 20 contributors to the 2009 book We Who Are Alive and Remain: untold stories from the Band of Brothers, published by Penguin/Berkley-Caliber.
Lesniewski was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, to Józef and Czesława (née Ciechaka) Lesniewski (Polish: Leśniewski) He graduated in 1939 from Erie Technological High School. He was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps and then worked on machinery for General Electric. Joe enlisted and joined the Army Air Forces on 28 October 1942. He tested and was accepted into the Cadet School to become a pilot. In August 1943, Lesniewski volunteered for the Airborne.
Lesniewski completed Airborne Infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Afterward, he was shipped to Northern Ireland. Because he was fluent in Polish, he was sent to work with the Office of Strategic Services. His mission was to jump into Nazi-occupied Warsaw, but the Russians overran the area and the jump was canceled. Joseph was given the option of staying with his unit or being transferred to any other unit. He requested the 101st Airborne. Joseph Lesniewski joined Easy Company in March 1944. As a replacement soldier, Lesniewski initially did not get along with the other men, but one day, when Lesniewski was singing some Western songs he learned back in the States, two soldiers went over and joined him. They became good friends, and Lesniewski did not have any problem with the other guys from then on.
Lesniewski fought in Battle of Normandy, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. He jumped at approximately 0100 hours on 6 June 1944 into Normandy, landing near the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, along with fellow Easy Company paratrooper Ed Joint. After several days, Lesniewski reunited with the rest of his unit and began the assault on Carentan.
During Operation Market Garden, Lesniewski was assigned to a patrol near a dike. After climbing to the top of the dike, Lesniewski came face-to-face with a German prepared to hurl a potato masher at him and his unit. Joe warned his comrades of the live grenade, saving many of the men in his squad, though he was lightly wounded in the neck by shrapnel from the grenade blast. Lesniewski began lobbing grenades over the dike toward the enemy soldiers, eventually learning they encountered an entire company of German SS.
During the Battle of Bastogne, Lesniewski's feet were wrapped in burlap bags because he had turned in his boots for repair and had no boots to wear in Bastogne. Easy Company was under constant artillery barrages from the Germans: during one of the shellings, Lesniewski took cover in a shallow foxhole, when a German shell came in and landed about 2 ft in front of him. The shell was a dud, so Lesniewski tied a handkerchief to a stick and stuck it in the ground where the shell was to warn of the danger.
Lesniewski went to work for the United States Post Office as a mail carrier. He was one of 20 contributors to the 2009 book We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers, published by Penguin/ Berkley-Caliber, and an interviewee in the HBO documentary We Stand Alone Together - Band of Brothers. He died at age 91, in Erie, Pennsylvania.
- Brotherton, p.14.
- Brotherton, p.15.
- WWII Army Enlistment Records: on-line NARA Archival Database
- p.64, Brotherton, 2011
- Ambrose, p.144.
- Brotherton, Marcus (2009). We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from The Band of Brothers. Berkley Caliber. ISBN 0-7434-6411-7.
- Brotherton, Marcus (2011). Shifty's War: The Authorized Biography of Sergeant Darrell 'Shifty' Powers, the Legendary Sharpshooter from the Band of Brothers. Berkley Caliber. ISBN 978-0-425-24097-7. https://books.google.com/books?id=7LTDyQNdViUC.
- Ambrose, Stephen E. (1992). Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7434-6411-6.
- Interview with Lesniewski from Men of Easy Company website
- Joe Lesniewski on Peter van de Wal's website