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John Junior Hrivnak

Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


John Junior Hrivnak

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Winston Churchill

John Junior Hrivnak was born on February 11, 1924, in Monongalia County, West Virginia. While some sources list him as John J. Hrivnak Jr., several official records, including his World War II draft registration indicate that he used "Junior" as a middle name. The 1930 Federal Census shows a record of the family in the Cass District. John Junior Hrivnak was one of two sons born to John and Mary, both born in Czechoslovakia, according to the census. However, according to the marriage certificate issued to John Hvinak and Mary Bartko Netro, they were both born in Austria. This was a second marriage for Mary Netro. The West Virginia Veterans Database detail indicates that John J. Hrivnak was married to Wilma Hrivnak, and this is confirmed by the fact that she received his commendation for the Air Medal.

The family was listed in 1930 with sons of the two parents and stepchildren of the head of the household John Hrivnak Sr. John Hrivnak Sr. was a fireman in a coal mine. By 1940, the family lived in Pursglove. John Netro lived next door to the Hrivnaks, and only John Junior Hrivnak, Susie, and Georgie lived at home.

John Junior Hrivnak graduated from University High School in 1940. On December 3, 1942, John Hrivnak enlisted for service in World War II. U.S. Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, indicate he enlisted at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, in the Medical Administrative Corps. His occupation was listed as semiskilled miner or mining-machine operator. He was single at the time of enlistment and had no dependents. By the time of his death in Natal, Brazil, on June 9, 1945, he was a member of the 4th Ferrying Command.

Brazil is sometimes known as the forgotten ally of World War II. According to Frank D. McCann, reports of a pro-Nazi coup in Argentina and, later, a report of a possible German move against Brazil compelled the United States to plan for Brazil's defense. Though the original plan to send 100,000 troops to Brazil was never implemented, the United States did eventually reach an agreement with Brazil to place American naval and air bases in the country. Other agreements, which covered steel mills, further strengthened the relationship between the two countries. ("Brazil and World War II: The Forgotten Ally. What Did You Do in the War, Ze?, Carioca?" Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America Latina y el Caribe [6:2], accessed 3 January 2019,

In Natal, Brazil, the United States established an air base that would be the largest base outside of the United States. Brazil, additionally, hosted the U.S. Fourth Fleet at Recife. The southern route from the U.S. to Europe was attractive because of the weather, if nothing else, as the trans-Atlantic northern route was all but closed for the winter. Through the southern oceanic routes, the U.S. could also reach the Philippines. The airfields of northern Brazil and the protection of the bases and southern routes became vitally important. Through them, ferrying and supply routes ran east and west.

Brazil declared its cooperation with the United States earlier but declared war on Germany and Italy in 1942 after German submarines sank five Brazilian vessels in August of that year. One military history source notes:

For a period of six months the Brazilian route handled virtually all air traffic to Europe and Africa, a large part of the planes and emergency supplies for India and China, and some of the lend-lease materials for the Soviet Union. This traffic included about twenty-five hundred combat planes moving to overseas air forces. By May 1943 the Natal air base was handling more plane movements each day than it had handled in a month a year earlier. The airway to Brazil, planned for hemisphere defense, became in 1943 the air funnel to the battlefields of the world. (Stetson Conn and Byron Fairchild, "Chapter XII: The Establishment of United States Army Forces in Brazil," The Framework of Hemisphere Defense, Washington, DC, 1989, accessed 3 January 2019,

An article in the April 6, 1946, Fairmont Times, "Award Made Posthumously," announced that Tech Sergeant Hrivnak was awarded the Air Medal and three oak clusters for his achievements in the Pacific Theater of the war. John Junior Hrivnak's wife, Wilma Hrivnak, received the award, which stated:

The commendation for the Air Medal and three oak leaf clusters is as follows:

For meritorious achievement while participating in sustained operational flight missions from 15 December 1943 to 27 January 1944, 27 March 1944, 19 March 1944 to 11 May 1944 and from 11 May 1944 to 16 September 1944, in the Southwest Pacific area, during while hostile contact was probably and expected.

These operations consisted of bombing missions against enemy airdromes and installations and attacks on enemy naval vessels and shipping. The courage and devotion to duty displayed during these flights are worthy of commendation.

The article reported that Tech Sgt. Hrivnak was serving with the Army Transport Command and had flown 57 missions against the Japanese in New Guinea. At the time of his death, John Junior Hrivnak was on his way to Europe, but the article does not say which position was his in a crew. Technical Sergeant ranks belonged to a few different positions that could be found on an airplane crew.

The World War II Honor List of the Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Force Personnel lists John Jr. Hrivnak as "DNB," which means Died Non-Battle. This designates death "in the line-of-duty, from sickness, homicide, suicide, or accidents outside combat areas, and died in the line-of-duty status." The Fairmont Times article states he was flying to Europe at the time, and the West Virginia Veterans Database Record Detail indicates he died as the result of a plane crash. His will, written at the Topeka, Kansas, Air Force Base left his belongings to his wife Wilma.

George Hrivnak, brother to John Junior, died at the age of 32 in 1959. George Hrivnak was a coal miner who died of injuries sustained during a slate fall at Pursglove Mine #5. His death certificate notes that he also was a World War II veteran.


Headstone for T/Sgt. John J. Hrivnak. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

T/Sgt. John Junior Hrivnak is buried in East Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown, West Virginia, near his parents.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
December 2018


John Junior Hrivnak

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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