January 23, 1920 – September 26, 2019
information provided by Egelhof, Siegert, & Casper Westview
Hedwig “Pat” Van Milligen (nee Pienczykowski) of Stonehill Care Center, formerly of Lansing, Illinois, passed away on September 26, 2019. Pat was 99 and was born on January 23, 1920 in Erie, Pennsylvania as a first generation American. Services will be held at a later date. Castle Hills Funeral Home in Calumet City, Illinois, is in charge of arrangements.
Our Mother was a part of the “Greatest Generation.” She grew up during the Great Depression with a Mother and a Father who were from Poland and spoke broken English at a time when the safety nets of today did not exist. The first language in their home was Polish, and at the public grade school she attended in Erie teachers taught in Polish and English. When she was born her grandmother—who had been a medical doctor in Poland—delivered her at home as a midwife.
After high school she worked the assembly line at General Electric and as a Sales Clerk at Sherman Dress Shop. At night she went to Erie Commercial College to become a Stenographer. In 1943 she joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Women’s Branch of the United States Army. She rose to the rank of Corporal before being honorably discharged in November, 1945. Mom had secret clearance as she worked as a Signal Message Center Clerk in an active war zone in New Guinea in the Pacific Theater. She was authorized to wear several medals and ribbons, including the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal with one Bronze Star. When President Truman was personally calling military commanders in the Pacific Theater to tell them the Japanese had surrendered, Mom took one of those calls and spoke to President Truman. Our Dad, Al Van Milligen, was a Captain fighting in the Battle of the Admiralties when injured and temporarily assigned a desk job—and met Mom, who would be delivering the incoming messages to him.
Their first date was New Year’s Eve 1944 in New Guinea. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at Assisi Village in 2016, shortly before Dad passed away at 94. They were fortunate to attend one of the Dubuque Honor Flights to the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. with their son, James, a Vietnam Veteran and his wife, Mary, accompanying them.
They raised 6 children in a Chicago suburb, Lansing, Illinois, in a 2-bedroom house with one bathroom. Along the way our aunt, grandmother, and great uncle lived with us at different times for as long as 7 years. Mom was always taking people in whether it was “babysitting” or having military people over for holiday meals because they were at Fort Sheridan or Great Lakes Naval Station and could not go home for the holidays.
Mom enjoyed playing cards, bridge, and pinochle, and there was many a card party at our house. It seems she volunteered at every event ever held at St. Ann Parish and School. Her prized apple pie was the hit of many a parish picnic. Mom never had a drivers license, walking and riding her bike everywhere she went. She loved to dance and was the jitterbug champion at Fort Benning, Georgia, and in several clubs in New York and Chicago. When the ships would come into harbor in New Guinea, Mom would go to the service club, and the boys would be lined up around the building as she would dance one dance with each one until exhaustion set in. Many a mother wrote her a letter saying their son had written to them talking about the angel who helped them forget about the war for just those few minutes. One soldier named his jeep after her.
Surviving are six children: Cornelius Van Milligen of Utica, Kentucky, who served as a Tank Commander Army Captain like his Dad; James Van Milligen (Mary), of Wichita, Kansas, who served as a Medic in the Vietnam War; Tish Aguilar of Lansing, Illinois (Tish was able to help keep our parents in their home for years beyond what they could have done on their own); David (Kathie) Van Milligen of Pewaukee, Wisconsin (David spent the last four summers in Dubuque visiting at Stonehill all day, every day); Joy Knollenberg (Terry) of Mantino, Illinois; and Michael Van Milligen (Nancy) of Dubuque, Iowa; 14 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren.
“We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth, our hearts were touched by fire.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
The family would like to thank the wonderful caregivers at Stonehill (Mom’s home for the last 3 years), Hospice of Dubuque, Assisi Village, Medical Associates, and Mercy Hospital for providing Mom the friendship, care, and dignity she so richly deserved. They are truly angels.