World War II veteran, Warren resident, turns 101

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 15, 2021

 “Nick” Joswiak turned 101 on Feb. 15. A resident at Park Place Heritage Village in Warren, he served in the Marines during World War II.

“Nick” Joswiak turned 101 on Feb. 15. A resident at Park Place Heritage Village in Warren, he served in the Marines during World War II.

Photo provided by Henry Storm

“I was here and there, wherever they needed me. All I can say is it was rough. I never thought that a human, a person, could go through that and live.”

“Nick” Joswiak, 101-year old WWII Marine Corps veteran, Warren resident

WARREN — “Nick” Joswiak celebrated more than his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Feb. 15. It was his 101st birthday.

A few days earlier, the World War II Marine veteran bought lunch for 130 people in his building at Park Place Heritage Village, in Warren. They dined on crispy fried chicken.

“I figured, you know, God was good to me,” Joswiak said on his birthday.

He was born in Brenham, Texas, west of Houston, in 1920 and raised on a farm, the seventh of 14 children in his family.

“My father had everything: corn and cotton, chickens, cattle and horses. You name it, he had it,” Joswiak said.

He said times were hard for the family when the country fell into the Great Depression in 1929.

“We went to bed hungry many times,” Joswiak remembered.

At age 16 in 1937, Joswiak came to Michigan and worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the New Deal programs founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Joswiak said he knew how he wanted to serve as the United States was plunged into World War II.  

“I was always admiring the Marine Corps, and when they broke the news on the radio that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, I was sitting there and said, ‘I’m joining the Marine Corps.’ I joined the Marines in 1942.”

Joswiak was already married to his wife, Irene, when he went to enlist. That’s when he was given a new “Nick”-name.

“When I went to enlist at the federal building, they said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said Adolph Joswiak, and they said, ‘Hey, you can’t have a name like that and join the Marine Corps.’ I said give me a nickname and they gave me Nick as a name. I just stuck with that. I like it very much.”

Joswiak spent the next three years fighting the Japanese in the Pacific and landed with the Marines on Guam, New Caledonia and Okinawa. He spent much of his time with the 2nd Marines, but also served with other units as a machine gunner and an artilleryman.

“I was here and there, wherever they needed me,” he said. “All I can say is it was rough. I never thought that a human, a person, could go through that and live.”

After the war, Irene and Nick had a son, Ronald Gregory Joswiak, who later joined the Marines, went to Vietnam and came home with two Purple Heart medals. Joswiak said his only child was named after the couple’s two favorite actors: Ronald Reagan and Gregory Peck.

Joswiak said he spent his career working in the automotive industry as a clerk at a plant that produced springs. He was eventually elected president of UAW Local 351 and served for nine years. He retired in 1977.  

Irene died in 1978. Ronald Gregory died in 2015.

Joswiak lived in Detroit for many years and then moved to Warren, where he lived for 10 years prior to his now six-year stay at Park Place Heritage Village.

Asked to share a message, a little pearl of wisdom, on his 101st birthday, Joswiak said, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke and don’t chase wild women. That’s what I always tell people.”

Mary Grace McCarter, executive director of Park Place Heritage Village, said she’s only known Joswiak since May, but that he’s quite a character.

“He did send me a dozen roses a week ago for taking such good care of everybody,” McCarter said. “He’s very generous. He’s a good guy. He’s got a bite to him, too. He’s strong. He’s a real advocate for the vaccine, and just a joy for all of us here to know him.”