Written by Christy Hinko Friday, 10 August 2012 00:00
A very familiar name to many Levittown and Island Trees residents has crossed my path three times this week and it seemed like a good reason to make mention. It’s one that most surely cannot be forgotten, and through the efforts of many in the community, never will.
His home of record is Bethpage. Island Trees has gone to lengths to remember him, by dedicating its administrative building to him, and the whole world can find his name on the 16E panel, row 69 of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It’s Stephen Edward Karopczyc, a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army’s Company A, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.
His service record says he served in South Vietnam. He was 23 years old when he was killed in action. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously in 1969. The citation reads:
“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to First Lieutenant (Infantry) Stephen Edward Karopczyc (ASN: 0-5328049), United States Army (Reserve), for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 2d Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, in action against enemy aggressor forces at Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 12 March 1967.
“While leading the 3rd Platoon, Company A, on a flanking maneuver against a superior enemy force, First Lieutenant Karopczyc observed that his lead element was engaged with a small enemy unit along his route. Aware of the importance of quickly pushing through to the main enemy force in order to provide relief for a hard-pressed friendly platoon, he dashed through the intense enemy fire into the open and hurled colored smoke grenades to designate the foe for attack by helicopter gunships. He moved among his men to embolden their advance, and he guided their attack by marking enemy locations with bursts of fire from his own weapon. His forceful leadership quickened the advance, forced the enemy to retreat, and allowed his unit to close with the main hostile force.
“Continuing the deployment of his platoon, he constantly exposed himself as he ran from man to man to give encouragement and to direct their efforts. A shot from an enemy sniper struck him above the heart but he refused aid for this serious injury, plugging the bleeding wound with his finger until it could be properly dressed. As the enemy strength mounted, he ordered his men to organize a defensive position in and around some abandoned bunkers where he conducted a defense against the increasingly strong enemy attacks. After several hours, a North Vietnamese soldier hurled a hand grenade to within a few feet of First Lieutenant Karopczyc and two other wounded men.
“Although his position protected him, he leaped up to cover the deadly grenade with a steel helmet. It exploded to drive fragments into First Lieutenant Karopczyc’s legs, but his action prevented further injury to the two wounded men. Severely weakened by his multiple wounds, he continued to direct the actions of his men until he succumbed two hours later. First Lieutenant Karopczyc’s heroic leadership, unyielding perseverance, and selfless devotion to his men were directly responsible for the successful and spirited action of his platoon throughout the battle and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army.”
A few days ago Nick Tonno, president of the Island Trees Football Alumni organization, contacted me about a story that the Levittown Tribune had covered last year about the memorial at Island Trees High School. As I began looking through some old files and information that I had collected about the memorial, there was Karopczyc’s name again. It is engraved on the newly installed Island Trees Fallen Hero Memorial at the high school, along with the names of 16 other Island Trees High School alumni who died in service to this country.
There is no greater honor than to keep a story alive. It’s the obligation of the community to remember the sacrifices made and ensure the next generation knows the story of these local heroes. Karopczyc is buried in Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.