- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

INDIANA, Pa. (AP) - Hundreds of readers expect to find some kind of treasure each year at the St. Thomas More University Parish used book sale. Any book, itself, is a treasure - in the eyes of the right reader.

Looking for that kind of treasure for her Uncle Tom, Brenda Sekerak stumbled upon a bit of a bonus in the early hours of the sale Friday.

Her catch was a 95-year-old book documenting the U.S. Army Fifth Division’s service in Europe in World War I, a well cared-for hardcover volume without a hint of dust or yellowing.

But the distant feel of the published pages became a piece of firsthand local history with what Sekerak found tucked away between the pages - an Indiana County soldier’s military discharge paper and the U.S. Army’s Victory Medal, awarded to him for his service overseas in what then was called “The Great War For Civilization.”

Doughboy Valentine Windeleski seems to have sprung to new life for Sekerak, and she is determined to find Windeleski’s descendants who may inadvertently have donated these intimate links to his personal life to the church fundraiser.

“I would just like to try to find the family,” Sekerak said. “I think someone has gotten rid of this and not realized what was in it.”

Sekerak, of Shearer Avenue, White Township, launched an informal search by posting photos of the relics on Facebook, but so far, she has no leads.

The military paper shows Windeleski, a 26-year-old Polish immigrant, enlisted in the Army at Blairsville on Oct. 10, 1917. Sekerak found it between pages 180 and 181, where the book has a fold-out map of France, showing the battle lines for the Fifth Division’s engagement in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from Oct. 12 to Nov. 4, 1918. According to the enlistment and service record, that’s where Windeleski saw action.

Windeleski, who stood 5 feet, 5 inches tall when he entered the service, never was wounded in the war.

He was honorably discharged July 26, 1919, at Camp Dix, N.J., and was given travel money to return to Creekside.

Sekerak said she never visited the St. Thomas More book sale before this past weekend.

She was prompted to visit with her mother-in-law, whose brother - Uncle Tom - had moved into a personal care home and donated his huge personal book collection to the church.

“He was a big history buff, and we donated four loads of books up there,” she said. “But there were a couple of books he wanted back, and we decided we would go to the Newman Center and try to find some of his books.”

Failing that, Sekerak said, they looked for something they thought would interest him.

“I just saw this leatherbound book and I just could tell it was old,” Sekerak said. Flipping through the pages, “I just saw this stuff in it. I saw an envelope and I thought it had a coin in it, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to close this up, somebody’s going to see it and try to get it from me.’”

The envelope held the bronze medal that she identified from online sources as the Victory Medal, an honor that never was authorized by Congress but was sanctioned and awarded by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.

“And that’s what Uncle Tom is into,” she said.

Other yellowing papers hidden away with the military record reveal more of Windeleski’s life.

He returned to the north-central Indiana County coal mines and paid his union dues to UMWA Local 1515 in Dixonville. A payment record booklet shows he paid $1 a month from 1952 through 1955.

Windeleski saw fit to save a couple of Detroit Free Press newspaper clippings about V-E Day, the end of World War II, dated in May 1945.

There’s a receipt for $13.16 worth of roof building supplies he purchased in October 1960 from Oakes Lumber Co. in the Clymer area.

Sekerak has searched online for other clues to Windeleski’s life, using the ancestry.com and rootsweb.com sites, but those efforts haven’t panned out.

There’s one final document connected to a local company, still in business, that might provide a link to Windeleski’s kin.

A statement from Bence Funeral Home in Clymer shows his family was billed $1,124 - minus a $75 veteran’s benefit - for his final expenses. Bence spelled his name “Wendeleskie” and charged his funeral to Olga Mackey. His death date isn’t listed, but one of the partial payments is dated Nov. 16, 1967.

“I would like to find the family that this goes to,” Sekerak said. “This should be cherished.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1mqtPrX

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Information from: The Indiana Gazette, http://www.indianagazette.com

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