William Charles Bilenki, a retired dental technician who was a decorated wounded World War II veteran, died of pneumonia Dec. 30 at the Hospice of the Chesapeake. He was 99 and had lived in Brooklyn Park and Curtis Bay.
His granddaughter, Ann-Marie Yesko, said her family announced his death to coincide with Mr. Bilenki’s 100th birthday, April 22, when he was buried with military color guard honors at Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Locust Point on Haubert Street, he was nicknamed Beans because he assisted with family finances by joining his siblings to pick green beans in the summer. His father, Jacob Bilenki, was walking in Curtis Bay and was struck and killed by a driver in 1932. He was one of nine children.
“His mother, Mary Bilenki, was an incredible woman who continued to bring up a strong and tight family unit,” said his granddaughter. “She worked alongside her daughter, Helen, who became a mother hen to her siblings. My grandfather had a happy childhood. He spoke fondly of summer days in the 1930s when he and his brothers would walk or hitch rides to the Stoney Creek Bridge to swim play and laugh the day away.”
From 1937 to 1940, he was a helper on a hoist for a Weyerhaeuser lumber yard. He later worked for the old Rustless Iron & Steel Co. on Edison Highway.
Mr. Bilenki enlisted in the Army on Jan. 16, 1941. While on leave, on May 24, 1941, he married Anna Brzozowski. They settled on Sycamore Street in Curtis Bay.
In 1942 he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and was assigned to the 23rd Infantry Regiment. He sailed to Great Britain and trained in Northern Ireland and Wales until June 1944, when he crossed the English Channel and landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus 1, June 7, 1944.
A platoon sergeant and marksman, he fought in France until August 1944, when he stepped on a German land mine in the city of Brest. He was wounded severely in the leg, foot and face and was awarded two Purple Hearts, two Battle Stars and the Combat Infantry Badge. In March 2015 he was inducted into the French Legion of Honour as a Chevalier.
He served in the war with four of his brothers, Michael, George, Peter and Anthony Bilenki, who also returned to Anne Arundel County after their military service. The five Bilenki brothers were photographed for local newspapers and rode together in a Glen Burnie Memorial Day parade.
Because he had been wounded severely in the right leg and foot, Mr. Bilenki received training from the Veterans Administration to become a dental technician. He worked at a George H. Fallon Federal Building and as a dental technician until his retirement in 1983.
He remained busy and productive.
“He set up a shop in his Sycamore Street basement where he had a a workbench that was full of teeth and dentures that he would make or fix for family and friends,” said his granddaughter. “It was quite a sight to behold.”
After moving to Brooklyn Park in 1971, he had another workshop with another dental workbench. He also made jewelry, birdhouses and carousels. He occasionally sold his wares at craft fairs.
“You would find him in his workshop wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt covered in paint,” said his granddaughter.
He collected coins and Hess trucks. He cut his grass. trimmed hedges and bushes. He also raised roses.
Mr. Bilenki was a charter member of the Curtis Bay Athletic Club and the Curtis Bay Recreation Advisory Council.
Mr. Bilenski enjoyed trips to Cookie's City Line Diner in Pasadena, Mikie’s Diner in Glen Burnie and Milt’s Rendezvous in Brooklyn, where he conversed with friends and other veterans. He often wore a veteran’s cap.
He was a member and past treasurer of a 2nd Infantry Division veterans’ organization. He participated in Memorial Day bus trips to Washington, D.C., and made stops at his division’s Korean War and WWII memorials, where he presented remembrance wreaths.
“My grandfather had a fantastic sense of humor and a larger-than-life personality,” said his granddaughter. “Although he was in constant physical pain due to his injuries, he never complained. His smile and laughter were infectious. Will found joy in the simplest of things.”