100-year-old WWII veteran’s service honored with Congressional Gold Medal

Columbia resident Russell Inzinga was honored Saturday for his service during World War II.

The 100- year- old was presented a Congressional Gold Medal from Rep. Joe Courtney ( D- CT 2nd District) and a citation from Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. The ceremony took place at the Windham Golf Course in North Windham.

Those who attended the awards ceremony were also on hand to celebrate Inzinga’s 101st birthday, which is coming up in November.

Inzinga was born in Willimantic in November 1921 and joined the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1942.

During World War II, the U. S. Merchant Marine provided critical logistical support to the Allied war effort.

Inzinga was assigned to a ship called the E. B. Alexander. During his service, he helped transport and deliver American servicemembers and supplies throughout Europe.

“Russ made 18 transatlantic crossings,” Bysiewicz said. “Those were so very dangerous because those big merchant marine boats were sitting targets.”

According to Courtney’s office, 250,000 civilians served in the U. S. Merchant Marine during World War II. Between 1939 and 1945, there were 9,521 merchant mariners who lost their lives — a higher portion than those killed in any other military branch, according to The National World War II Museum.

When merchant mariners returned home from World War II, they were not provided access to the same benefits or recognition as other veterans. In 2020, Courtney voted to pass a bill to change that: the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act.

The Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act was signed into law. The law awards a Congressional Gold Medal — one of the highest honors in the U. S. — to American Merchant Mariners who served during World War II.

After his time in the service, Inzinga went on to manage Russell’s Barber Shop in Manchester, Connecticut for more than 60 years. Inzinga was also married for more than 60 years and had five children, four daughters and one son.

Inzinga’s family who attended his award ceremony were happy to see Inzinga honored for his military service. They were also excited to see him recognized after years of advocating for merchant mariners to be honored for their service during World War II.

Bysiewicz underscored the importance of Russ’ recognition on Saturday.

“Everyone who served in World War II did an incredible service in protecting our country and fighting Nazism,” she said.

Bysiewicz added that it is important to cherish the World War II veterans that are still alive. According to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II were alive in 2021.

“They are living history,” Bysiewicz said regarding living American World War II veterans. “And they are heroes.”

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100-year-old WWII veteran’s service honored with Congressional Gold Medal