Congressman Tom Suozzi honors a Sea Cliff WWII veteran who gave everything


WWII Navy veteran William Olitsky never talked about the war. His grandson, Douglas Olitsky only discovered that his grandfather was an unrecognized hero while doing research for an upcoming family reunion.

“All I remember was that my grandfather had a big lump on the back of his neck,” Olitsky, of Sea Cliff, said. “It was shrapnel.”

Olitsky’s journey into discovering his grandfather’s wartime history began five years ago when he decided to organize a family reunion. When he asked members of his family to send old photographs his uncle’s were of his grandfather while in the military.

Olitsky asked his uncle to send him anything else he might have related to his grandfather’s service. He received a letter, but found it hard to understand, Olitsky said. So he contacted the Hall of Records in St. Louis to get the military records.

“But everything in it didn’t relate to the letter my uncle had given me,” he said. “I saw that Kirsten Gillibrand helped someone trying to do what I was doing so I reached out to my congressman at the time, George Santos.”

Little progress was made by Santos and once he was expelled from Congress Olitsky reached out to his new congressman, Tom Suozzi. His office contacted the Navy to obtain details of William Olitsky’s service. In the process, they discovered there were several medals due to him, including the Purple Heart.

William Olitsky was a boatswain’s mate second class in the Navy during WWII serving five years. He enlisted in the Construction Battalion on Sept. 18, 1943, and left the United States in the spring of 1944 with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion, later participating in the assault of Iwo Jima. 

Shortly after landing on the beach on ,Feb. 19, 1945, Olitsky helped unload a 37 mm gun from a Higgins boat. But then an enemy mortar shell destroyed the artillery piece, injuring several men who were nearby. Olitsky was hurt too, suffering multiple contusions on his back and buttocks but despite his injuries, he volunteered to help evacuate the casualties and unload supplies.

“People were drowning,” Doug said, “and my grandfather pulled them back to safety.”

A few hours later, an enemy shell exploded nearby, and a piece of shrapnel pierced Olitsky’s right arm, earning him a Purple Heart.

On Memorial Day, Suozzi presented a posthumous Purple Heart, along with seven additional military medals to Olitsky’s family.

“My goal was not to get all choked up,” Doug said. “I almost made it to the end.”
Suozzi had arranged for the medals to be placed in a shadow box along with a photo of Navy man William Olitsky.

“They left room for the Purple Heart to go in,” Doug said. “I had closure. For me, my questions were now all answered.”

Doug said he had to admit that he didn’t recognize his grandfather in the photograph. William Olitsky appeared to be skinny, but Doug said his expression revealed his character — someone as tough as nails.

“My grandfather was a Golden Glove boxer and a swimmer,” Olitsky recalled. “I will always remember him as a big, old teddy bear.”

Suozzi said one of his greatest privileges is serving our veterans, adding they should always be remembered.

“Heroes like William Olitsky were not just sailors, marines, or soldiers; they were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, and neighbors,” Suozzi said. “Their sacrifice is a profound reminder of the cost of freedom and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Their stories need to be told and shared.”