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World War II veteran honored with street sign

For 70 years — every Dec. 6 — Henry J. “Hank” Rutkowski Sr. has attended mass at St. Bruno Catholic Church on the Southwest Side to remember a lost World War II crewmate.

On Saturday, Rutkowski, 89, walked into his parish to find dozens of family members, veterans, as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Ed Burke (14th) sitting in the pews.

There, Rutkowski learned a section of 48th Street and Harding Avenue, just outside the church would be dubbed Henry J. “Hank” Rutkowski Place.

With the help of his parents, Rutkowski at just 17 enlisted in the war as a sergeant with the Army’s Air Corps in the European Theatre of Operation. He spent more than a year as a POW when his B-17 bomber called White Devil was shot down in 1944.

Eight men survived — all except for Joseph Marlowe, a man from South Carolina who was killed when his parachute didn’t open.

Family members say he is humble about his past, never glorifying those years. Burke learned of Rutkowski’s story after running into him after mass last Dec. 6.

“He fought, survived and returned to the city he loves. Nobody gave him a parade,” Burke said. “But when we leave this church this morning, I want all of you to join the mayor and I as we unveil a street sign on the corner…so that the generations to come, when you walk by that sign say, ‘Who is Hank Rutkowski?’ Somebody is going to tell them that story.”

Emanuel also thanked Rutkowski for his service: “Hank, there is no way we can ever say, but know it from the bottom of our heart…thank you.”

Surrounded by family, the street sign was unveiled Saturday morning by his 20-year-old great granddaughter Cassie Devitt.

“I’m overwhelmed [by] all the people who came out here,” Rutkowski said.

But Rutkowski still had one thing on his mind.

“I think it’s an honor but like I always say, the honor should be bestowed on the ones that didn’t come back.” Rutkowski said. “That’s always in the back of my mind. That crewmember that didn’t come back with us. I remember him every Dec. 6.”