May 27, 2024

My Last Name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

PFC George V. Szczepanczyk
Image credit: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

On May 29, 2007, I had received the following email:

Dear Mitchell,

My name is Christine Szczepanczyk and I was browsing the net looking for my brother's name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall and your name popped up.

It totally freaked me out since I thought all my relatives are in Poland or Canada. My father had 2 brothers and 1 sister. His father died very young and so did my father for that matter. And so did my brother for that matter. He was the youngest 19yrs old and never had a chance to reproduce the SZCZEPANCZYK name for future generations. He was drafted at the height of the escalation in 67-68, was an only son and was born in Italy but became a U.S. citizen at 12yrs old. If we only knew then...

Anyway, I went off the track there. But I'm sure you are not related since my father never mentioned his family's backround too much. I am not sure my grandfather had any brothers himself. I will have to talk to my aunt in Canada to find out some info. And believe me I will.

It's was nice to send you this email and I hope you respond



Yes, it turns out that my last name, which I thought had no other living connections in the United States to anyone except my immediate family, did indeed have another connection elsewhere in the United States, and has a place on, of all things, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The brother to whom Christine makes reference is Private First Class George V. Szczepanczyk, who was from Paterson, New Jersey, and who died in the Vietnam War in 1968 at the age of twenty. There are many, many memorials to Private Szczepanczyk online.

My reply to Christine:

Dear Christine,

Thank you for writing. This is most intriguing. It appears that we probably aren't related -- or distantly so at best. My father, who was an only child, came to the United States (Michigan, to be exact) in 1973. His father, named Alexander, died in the early 1950s. I myself live in Chicago, where I've lived for the past 11 years.

It's a first for me too. I've gotten emails from other Szczepanczyks overseas (Germany and Poland in particular), but not in the United States -- at least not from Szczepanczyks I'm not immediately related to.

-- Mitchell

Neat ancillary fact: This email came shortly before my tryout and subsequent appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I listed it as an interesting story in my contestant application, and it came up in subsequent discussions with show staff. If my appearance had lasted longer than it actually did, I believe I stood a good chance to discuss this story on television.