Dave Kornacki is a longtime Ludlow police detective.
His job includes investigating crimes like a recent murder-suicide and a rash of smashed mailboxes.
He is also a history detective - an unlikely role for someone who was more of a math and science guy at LudlowHigh School and Westfield State College.
But Dave, 38, was influenced by Dr. Bill Koscher's Western Civilization class, along with all the stories he heard while growing up about his Polish immigrant grandfather, Joseph Kornacki, who fought with Sgt. Alvin C. York in the famous and pivotal ArgonneForest battle that has become a World War I legend.
Sergeant York was credited with single-handedly killing 25 German soldiers and capturing 132 on Oct. 8, 1918.
Profiled in the then-influential Saturday Evening Post, the one-time conscientious objector from the backwoods of Tennessee was considered the greatest hero of the war, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross and the congressional Medal of Honor.
A grateful nation would know his name. History books recorded his deeds. Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for best actor for portraying his heroics in "Sergeant York." The post office issued a commemorative stamp with his likeness.
"What people don't know is the whole story," Detective Dave Kornacki says on a recent afternoon. "The story of 17 men, including Alvin York, who fought that battle against immense odds. Myself along with other relatives of men who fought that day are interested in giving credit where credit is due, through historical records, newspaper accounts, personal documents, to 'The Other Sixteen.' That's what we call our organization. In no way we are taking anything away from Sergeant York. We believe the sharing of honor among men in no way diminishes the actions of an individual."
Joseph Kornacki's actions that day earned him the Silver Star, the third highest military decoration.
He had arrived in America two years earlier and settled in Holyoke, a blacksmith from Warsaw with little English. His real last name was Konotski, but it was changed at Ellis Island, according to his son, Ted. He went to work in the PaperCity's mills.
"He enlisted in the Army because he heard it was the quickest way to become an American citizen," Ted recalls. "I was the next to the youngest of seven kids and he wasn't talking about the war much by then. But when he did, I could tell he was bothered that York got all the credit. It wasn't like he wanted the credit. It just didn't seem fair to him, considering the six men who died that day and the three who were wounded and the 10 others who kept fighting were ignored, forgotten. I know he hated the movie."
After the war, Joseph returned home, married, and started a family. He was a shift supervisor for the former American Writing Company in Holyoke. He was 64 when he died in 1959.
Dave Kornacki never met his grandfather.
"Boy, what I wouldn't give to spend even a few hours with him," he says. "I was just looking at a picture of him. He had massive hands. He wasn't a guy to to be messed with."
The Other Sixteen committee - made up of an attorney, real estate broker, nurse, math teacher, a retired fire chief, each representing a family member who tried to take out that German machine-gun nest more than 90 years ago - sometimes meets at Dave's Brimfield home to go over new information.
Two months ago, Dave and Bob D'Angelo (a New Haven native and the great nephew of Sergeant Bernard Early, the commanding officer of the unit) retraced their relatives' footsteps in France.
"It was," Dave notes, "more of a spiritual journey than a historical one, but it was an honor to follow the trail of these salty, hard-boiled soldiers."
Dave suspects that Sergeant York was lionized over the other men because so many were new immigrants and his story was easier to tell: a religious man, a grammar-school dropout, a conscientious objector.
"It just made for a better story, a better movie," he says. "His face was going to be the heroic face of the war. And that's OK, except the other guys shouldn't just be a footnote to history. We're not trying to cause trouble. We just want to set the record straight. This isn't about bashing Alvin York, but getting recognition for these brave men."