I dedicate this true story to my parents – John and Catherine Czarnik — my Pioneers!
And to Tom, Kitty, Peggy, Paul, Marian and Monica.
To my wife and best friend, Ann (Singer) Czarnik, who typed and edited my story.
(Sirach 3:12-13) My children, take care of your father when he is old, grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him, revile him not in the fullness of your strength.
There were over fifty of us young men sitting there on hard benches, waiting for the results of our army physical examinations.
We were all members of Draft Board #17, Hamtramck, Michigan. We had all received our “Greetings from Your President” letters informing us that Uncle Sam wanted us to serve in the military service to defend the United States of American against Germany and Japan.
This was April 13th, 1943, and I have been drafted. We were ordered to report to our Induction Center on Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan.
Here we were subjected to the most humiliating physical examination you can imagine after six hours of walking around “naked as a jaybird,” being asked questions like, “Do you like girls or boys best?” In those days those were fighting words.
The exam was over!! We would soon get our results. Most of the fellows there I knew if not by name at least by sight. Most of them would be leaving for Fort Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan, a week from today for assignment to Army Basic Training Camps.
But deep in my heart I knew that I wouldn’t be one of them. Why? I was six feet tall, weighed only 142 lbs., and I just knew that my chest x-rays would show that I had TB
But first, let me tell you about my life as a young boy growing up on a farm and living in the city during the Great Depression in the thirties. You think you had it tough. Read on.
We’ll get back to the results of my physical exams later.
My father came to America from Poland around 1910. He was born near Krakow and met his wife, my mother, in the city of Lwow. He came alone to America, leaving his wife and two sons, my brothers Walter, age eight, and Joseph, age five.
The way I understand it, he left Poland to avoid being conscripted by the Austrian Army. His occupation was a teamster -something to do with taking care of horses, and he also did some farm work.
He had to have a sponsor in order to get a visa to come to America. So my Uncle Peter Ferenc, brother of my mother, provided room and board, and a promise of a job in America.
Soon after, he sent for his wife Catherine and his two sons. I have no idea how he managed to get the money or what jobs he held early in his life in America.
When the baby of our family, Alex, was born, my father was 47 years old and my mother was 43. There was a large difference of age between some of us.
- So when Alex was born on December 8, 1927:
- Walter was 21
- Joe was 19
- Helen was 17
- Mary was 15
- Rudy was 9
- Stan (me) 5
- and Alexander 0
- My parents also had another daughter. She died at birth. About her, I know nothing.
I know I was born on Dorothy Street in Hamtramck, Michigan. Before that, my parents owned a house on Huber Street, and before that they had a small farm. Dorothy Street is located near Conant and Miller Streets.
My dad was about 5′,8″ tall and weighed 160 lbs. He had a stocky build and was as strong as an ox. He had light brown, sparse hair and a large bushy mustache. His eyes were light steel blue. He was a fun-loving guy, but look out! When he got drunk he would start looking for a fight.
Many times, when I was a teenager in Hamtramck, I would sit outside the bar my dad was in and wait for him to get thrown out by the bartender. Then I’d bring him home. Come to think of it, I did this quite often. In fact, my dad depended on me to steer him home. Sometimes he would shout at someone in the bar. That’s when I knew he wanted to go home. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
My father had a lot of bad habits but to balance this, he also had many good virtues which will come to light as my story unfolds.
My mother was a very small, petite woman. She had dark black hair. She kept it tied, most of the time, back on her neck. And when she undid it to comb it, it fell down below her shoulders. She was about 5′ 3″ tall and I doubt if she weighed over a 100 lbs. I can never remember her raising her voice in anger. She never laid a hand on “us kids.” It seems like we always tried to help her and protect her because of her smallness. She was good, and died much too young. I was only 13. Too bad – only 13, and no mother to love.
I know my parents became American citizens, but when? I don’t know. All the Polish I learned was listening to my mother and father speaking to me in their native tongue. They hardly ever spoke any English at home.
I probably was about one year old when my father bought this farm just east of a little town called Goodells. It was north of a larger town by the name of Smiths Creek. Port Huron was 20 miles northeast of our 86-acre farm.
How my father acquired this farm, I don’t have any idea. But it was ours, and we lived there for about seven years. What I can recall of it, it must have been the happiest years of my young life.
We had a forest on our property. We also had a creek running through our pasture. We could, and did, use this creek for swimming. Also, a few trout swam through our fast-running water.
We also had the largest red barn in the area.
My father used most of the land for farming. We raised wheat, corn, potatoes, etc., also feed for our farm animals.
We had about 12 milking cows and, of course, one mean bull – a very mean, crazy bull. Even the cows hated him.
My dad would milk all these cows by “hand.” I’m sure he had help from my mother and my sisters Mary and Helen, also my brother Rudy. (Brothers Joe and Walter lived and worked in Detroit.)
Every day a truck from Smiths Creek would pick up our cans of milk, as it did from most of the farmers in this county.
We also had three plow horses, no tractors in those days. My father plowed up and cultivated the land he would use for farming with a hand plow using two horses. That sure was hard work. He worked from before daybreak to dark.
Chickens, ducks and some ornery geese had the run of the barnyard.
We also raised some pigs, a goat, and a few rabbits.
My mother was in charge of the barnyard besides her work in the house, and also raising the children.
I remember that when my dad would plow up our fields in the spring he would always bypass all the birds’ nests built by the meadowlarks on the ground.
So his furrows weren’t always straight because of his concern for the nests. Some of these nests had eggs in them.
One of my dad’s virtues.
We had a railroad right next to our property. One day Charlie broke down the fence and stood there like a bump on a log – and guess what? No more Charlie.
Every farm has a dog. But not all were like Danny Boy. He was a collie. His color was orange and white. He looked like a miniature Lassie. His job was to bring in the cows from the pasture. My dad would say, “Go get ’em,” in Polish. Danny got them. Good thing he understood Polish. My dad strictly spoke Polish. Even his sign language to the dog was in Polish!
Not too many cars out there in the country, but Danny managed to get his rear legs run over by an old car. He crawled underneath the back porch. My dad said that he would be dead by morning. Next morning he was nowhere to be found. We looked all over the farm for Danny. No Danny Boy.
Ten days went by, and that day near dusk guess who came out of the woods? Limping slightly, a little lighter, but completely healed, Danny came home. He probably ate herbs and grasses to cure himself. What a dog!
A little footnote here: The first month we moved to the city, old Danny Boy chased one car too many. What a dog! He loved cars!
Our house was a cinderblock type.
We had a well pump that was located on our wooden sink.
No running water!
No central heating. In the winter, on cold days, our water would freeze up.
My mother cooked on a wood-burning iron stove. Boy, could she make homemade bread.
Our dining room was quite large. Right in the center of the room we had our coal-burning stove. On cold winter nights we sat around this stove with our stocking feet resting on heavy, decorated chrome rails that ran on three sides of our big stove.
You had to bring black, shiny coal in from the back porch in a large galvanized coal hod. The top of the stove had a swivel top and that’s where you put in the black coal. It had two doors around the two sides, and a larger door in front. All three sides of the stove were sealed tight with small panes of 2 1/2×3 1/3 mica glass. A pleasant sight watching the blue flames licking up against the coals on a cold wintry night. Temperature around zero, and always snow. The white stuff never left the ground until late May.
Oh yes, you ask. How did you get rid of the smoke and fumes? Well, we had a six inch black, enameled, round stovepipe that connected to the stove and went up three feet. A 6″ elbow “bent” it to the wall, where it went into the chimney.
Oh, one more thing. It was very important that the coals were “banked” just before going to bed. Why? Because that way the fire would keep burning all during the night. And more important, that carbon monoxide wouldn’t seep out and kill you in your sleep. Some fun, eh?
The two bedrooms upstairs did not benefit from this stove. We always wore long johns to bed plus anything else we could find to pile on our bed at night.
We also had a large, shelved pantry next to our kitchen. This pantry served as our refrigerator and cold storage shed.
No electricity. Just oil lamps and large kerosene lanterns. No TV, no radio, no stereo. The good old days – huh? But, of course, we didn’t know any better.
Our outhouse was about 50 feet from the house, in a little gully. On winter nights, when it was icy, a person had to be careful because you could slide right by and end up in the chicken coop. My dad fixed up a safety grab bar on the outhouse, so we could grab it as we slid by. I guess you could call it the first bathroom “grab-bar.” By the way, my brother Joe named our outhouse “The Crapper.” It was a two seater! A high class outhouse.
We had a fruit cellar under half of our house. In it we stored mostly potatoes. We ate a lot of potatoes!
We also stored apples and canned preserves. My mother did a lot of canning during the fall months. My father made root beer, and, of course, home-brewed beer. We made our own butter, and the best vanilla ice cream in the county.
Like I said, we had potatoes, but we also had sweet corn, beets, peas, beans, and other vegetables. We had a few fruit trees, and a watermelon patch. We also could pick wild raspberries and strawberries near the railroad tracks. Plenty of eggs, chickens, ducks, but never a goose – the geese were really our pets – and lots of milk.
Milk, the scourge of our family! Why? Because some of our cows became tubercular and the milk from them infected some of our family.
The weather as I can remember it was: Cold from October to December, really cold in January and February. Like I said before, once the snow fell in November, that was the beginning of the snow season. Boy, did we have snow! Then the thaw and the April rains would flood our farm, and our creeks would become raging streams.
Today we call them tornadoes, but out there we called them cyclones. We had a cyclone cellar or shelter built near our house. Whenever the skies got black and green, we would all run for our haven. Of course, we also had a lot of ideal spring, summer and fall days.
I remember! I remember one day it rained hard all morning. All the ditches, creeks, and gullies were all swollen, and running over their banks. In the afternoon the sun came out and so did mom, dad, Helen, Mary and Rudy – but no five-year-old Stanley. They knew that I liked to float pieces of wood down the creek and pretend they were large boats. They presumed I was by the creek. The neighbors joined in – no luck. Two or three hours later, one of my sisters came home and found me sound asleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Guess what? They were so happy to see me that I got a spanking for not answering when they called me.
I remember – It was early spring and it had rained steadily for several days. We had a large rain barrel on the porch under a roof eave. The barrel was filled to the top with rainwater, and I was sailing pieces of wood in it. One piece of wood started to sink to the bottom and I made a grab for it. I fell head over heels into the rain barrel. That’s the last I remember!
My mother was in the kitchen baking, and heard some strange gurgling sounds. She opened the door and saw two feet sticking out of the rain barrel. When she pulled me out, she said that I was turning blue. She whacked me a few times on my back, and shaking me, she finally revived me.
From that day on I always let my “boats” sink to the bottom of that rain barrel.
True story – my mother saved my life!
And that’s why we never keep a large rain barrel under our gutter.
My mother didn’t spank any of us. She always looked kind of sad and melancholy. It seemed to me that she always protected us from the wrath of our father. He wasn’t abusive, but he was very strict, and you had better obey him or you’d get a feel of his strap.
My mother used to read a lot. She had books hidden all over the house, in the barn, and even in the chicken coop. Most of them were religious books. I think my mother liked to be alone a lot. Funny, I can’t remember ever going to church while I was on the farm. Probably the only Catholic Church was in Port Huron.
I remember going to Smiths Creek once in a while. This town was about ten miles from Goodells, and Goodells was about two miles from our farm. Smiths Creek had a main street, but no traffic light. It had a general store, a bakery, a gas station, a fruit market, and a few houses.
It also had a large train station where it would pick up passengers going to Detroit. This train station is now a permanent fixture at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.
Port Huron was about 30 miles away, and that was where you would go to the doctor, dentist, and any other business you needed to do. Port Huron was a quaint big-time city, and still is.
When Alex was about six months old, my Uncle Peter (Ferenc) picked up my mother, Alex, Mary, Helen and me, and took us to his home in Hamtramck for a weekend visit.
I guess we had a good time but the excitement was to come on the way back home to our farm.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and my uncle was driving a Model T Ford. As he made a turn on the country road near our farm, the car hit one of the ruts and overturned on its side in a ditch.
Believe it or not – No one was hurt. My mother was still holding Alex in her arms, and everyone came out unscathed.
Some near-by farmers came out and helped Uncle Peter push the car upright, and sent us on our way. Those Model T’s were tough!
Hard-drinking, card-playing sons of a gun!
They worked in the city, at the L.A. Young Spring Plant.
They came out almost every weekend. Sometimes they would bring some of their friends. What a wild time! They all slept in the barn.
My brother Walter was an easy-going guy.
My brother Joseph was just the opposite, always looking for a fight.
But one good feature Joe had – on Saturday mornings, he would get lost in the woods and not come out until Sunday afternoon.
One time on the farm my cousin was visiting us on the weekend. My brother Joe and his friends put up a target on the barn door, and shot Joe Strzepek in the shoulder. He was standing on the other side of the door.
I also remember Cousin Joe as a man who used to do wallpaper hanging as a sideline. Brother Joe and I used to help him do this on weekend’s years later on when we moved to Hamtramck.
When cousin Joe retired he moved back to New York with his family and joined the rest of the Strzepek’s who were settled in New York State.
Mary, Helen and Rudy all went to a one-room schoolhouse in Goodells, Michigan. They had to walk about two miles to school, which wasn’t bad except in the wintertime.
They were good students and, in turn, they helped to educate me in basic studies.
My sisters helped our mother with her chores and Rudy helped my dad.
But later on in life, my mother, Mary, Helen and Rudy all died from TB because they got this disease from the milk of infected tubercular cows.
My brother Alex also contacted this disease and ended up in a hospital. Later on in life it was really what did him in.
My father traded his 86-acre farm in 1930 for an income house on Holbrook Street in Hamtramck, and a part-interest in Holbrook Baking Company, a bakery located west of our house.
We moved in the late spring into this wood-frame house. Like I said, it was an income-type house. The upstairs part had three bedrooms, not very large, a large kitchen, a small dining room and a small living room, all in a straight line.
The bathroom was located off the kitchen, a toilet, and a bathtub with four cast-iron legs. Today it is considered an antique.
The downstairs income was the same as the upstairs except it had only two bedrooms. The living room was larger and it had a hallway at the front door. Both the upstairs and downstairs had large front and back porches. Most of the houses in that era had porches. The front porches came in handy in the summertime when the heat became too unbearable.
Rudy was seven years older than me. He died at the age of 15, just after we moved back to the city. I remember he was always quite sickly when we lived on the farm.
It’s funny, but to me Rudy was sort of a dream. I can’t recall that much about him. I know he was of medium height and weight. He had light brown hair, and didn’t say very much.
He died of complications of pneumonia, but the real cause was consumption (TB)! What a scourge to our family, but life goes on, or does it?
After my father lost his interest in the bakery on Holbrook Street, he had some odd jobs.
On Comstock and Conant Streets we had a Farmers Market that was very busy on weekends. And one of the main attractions was fresh, live chickens.
People would pick one out that looked good to them, and my dad’s job was to twist the chicken’s head off and fling the chicken to the ground where it died, doing the polka, as my brothers Walter and Joe would say. For a dollar more he, my father, would soak the dead bird in boiling hot water and pluck the feathers for you.
My brother Joe made up a sign over the chickens. The sign said, “The Cluck Stops here.” True story.
When we moved to Hamtramck in 1930, I was eight years old. I had never gone to school. My sisters tutored me at home on the farm. So my parents enrolled me in the Playfair Elementary School. It was located on Jacob and Gallagher Streets. Next to it was a large recreation area where six softball diamonds and a baseball (hard ball) diamond were also located. Back of this area was the railroad tracks.
Back to the school: It ran from the first grade through the seventh grade. Later on, it was renamed the Marshal Pilsudski School. After a series of tests, they put me in the second grade. I was a “B” average student most of my school days.
We had a softball team when I was in the seventh grade. We played against other schools. It was softball, but it was fast pitch. I was the pitcher. I remember we beat an all-black team for the championship that year, and the losers wanted to beat me up after the game.
I went on to Copernicus Jr. High (8th & 9th grade) located on Gallagher near Caniff. I graduated from Hamtramck High School, located on Hewitt near Joseph Campau, in June 1941.
Yes, once upon a time there were such things as streetcars. Actually they were trolley cars, an electric cable leading to or down to a train-like caboose.
Our main line was the Baker Line. It ran from Davison and Joseph Campau. I should say this Baker Line started at Davison Avenue and Joseph Campau in Detroit. Then it went right through the city of Hamtramck on Joseph Campau, turned right on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, and went all the way to downtown Detroit.
Just think, you could travel all the way from Hamtramck to downtown Detroit (a distance of 20 miles) for only six cents. Yes, I said six pennies. For an extra cent, you could buy a transfer and switch to another line.
This type of public transportation was common in the 1920’s to the late 1940’s. They eventually were replaced by buses.
One of the streets the streetcars traveled down to provide the people of Detroit different ways of getting all over the city was the Van Dyke Line. It ran all the way from Van Dyke and Six Mile Road all the way to Jefferson Avenue, and stopped at the Belle Isle Bridge.
In 1941-42-43, Walter Zyszkiewicz and I used to take the Baker Line, then transfer to the Grand Belt Line, and that took us to the Olympia Arena. Right! The Red Wings! Walt and I used to go about once a week. Tickets were about two dollars (cheap seats). Cousin Walter was a pretty good hockey player. We had a great time going to the games; only thing Walter was 6′,8″ tall and he had to stoop (seats were taken all the way). Early in 1943, he bought a used car. We then went to the games in style. But guess what? I got drafted.
Let’s see if I can remember the teams that were in the N.H.L. – Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadians, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Only six teams. We got to know all the players.
Yes, streetcars were a big part of our life.
They took us to Navin Field, where the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Lions played; to Olympia Arena; to downtown Detroit, where we saw first run movies, big time bands and stage shows. Streetcars were a great part of our lives.
The “Great Depression” started about 1929 and lasted until about 1939. Our family was really “depressed.” During the “thirties” my two sisters, Mary and Helen, married two brothers, Walter and Stanley Lipka. They, the two brothers, came to Michigan from the small mining town of Slicksville, Pennsylvania.
Walter Lipka married Mary. Short as it was, it was a happy marriage. I remember Walter was a honky-tonk type piano player and also could strum a mean banjo. As a boy, I spent a lot of time with Walter and Mary, and later their daughter, Diane. They lived about four blocks away on Edwin Street.
Stanley Lipka, the older brother, and Helen lived in a Hamtramck home project. They raised four children, and they all called me “Uncle Chuck.” Why? I don’t know. Their kids’ names are Joan, Richard, Lorraine, and Carol. One boy, Roland, died when he was an infant. I also enjoyed being with my sister Helen and her family.
My brother Walter married Stella Lipka, who was a cousin to Stanley and Walter Lipka. The lived on Lehman Street near Joseph Campau, about six blocks from our house on Holbrook near Conant Avenue.
They had three children, Jeanette, Arthur and Tessie. I also got to know my nieces and nephew quite well.
My brother Joseph, or Joe, married Eleanor Pruss. The Pruss family was our next door neighbors.
Their wedding was quite a big affair. A horse and buggy arrived on Saturday morning to pick up the bride and groom, and away they went clippity clop to Queen of Apostles Church. It was an all-day affair, dancing, drinking, eating, and fighting.
Joe and Eleanor rented our upstairs flat, and my parents, Alex and I lived downstairs.
Later on when my mother died, my father, brother and I went to live upstairs with Eleanor and Joe. My sister Mary and her husband Walter rented the downstairs apartment for a while after they got married.
After I got drafted into the army, my father signed over the deed to the house to my brother Joe with the stipulation that he could live there for the rest of his life. And he did.
My mother died on June 24, 1936. She was 51 years old, much too young even in those days.
She contacted TB on the farm when some of the cows became tubercular.
I think our Dr. Thompson made a mistake by keeping my mother at home and not putting her into a sanitarium to treat her, because my two sisters, Mary and Helen, had to see to her needs and be her nurses.
And I also remember Alexander and me sitting on her bed and talking to her. Her bed was put in a corner of the living room.
My dad, Walter, Joe and I were the only ones strong enough not to contact TB
Sad but true!
Things were tough. My father was out of work. My mother died in 1936. I was 14 years old, and no jobs were available. Walter and Joe both worked for the L.A. Young Spring Manufacturing Company. They made just enough money to support their own families.
Walter, my oldest brother, would get paid on Friday, and as he got off the bus on Lehman and Conant Avenue, there would be me waiting to greet him. He would shake my hand and, lo and behold, a quarter would appear in my hand. That was big money time! No one knew about this arrangement between Walter and me. I don’t even know how it started. I never missed a Friday, and Walter never missed giving me that quarter that let me see a movie that weekend and have a box of popcorn (with a nickel left over).
I remember having to go to a welfare disbursement center with my dad and pick up some bags of food, mostly staples like sugar, flour, lard, etc. I really hated to go there. I had to take a wagon to bring the food home. But we had to eat.
I remember getting a light-tan pair of pants from the welfare office. I hated them. I didn’t want to wear them because all my friends knew they were “welfare pants.” My dad made me wear them. One older “friend” of mine would say, “Stanley is wearing ‘free pants.'” How embarrassing.
Yes, those were Depression Days. We ate a lot of homemade bread, with a mixture of lard and salt serving as butter. My father raised pigeons and rabbits and a few chickens.
After a while you get used to eating a whole pigeon. Rabbit was a little hard to chew, but it sure was better than starving. And, of course, my father had a vegetable garden.
To make sure he never ran out of pigeons, he would send out homing-type birds in the morning and by night the six “homers” would bring in about a dozen other pigeons. These other birds would become our food supply for the week. You see, a lot of other men raised pigeons in the area, and my dad was a smart old son-of-a-gun.
Sometimes these owners came looking for their birds, but good old Pop covered his tracks well. Pluck and eat them was his motto.
Of course, the rabbits quickly multiplied and outlasted the depression. The chickens we only ate on Sundays and special occasions.
The pigeon coop and rabbit hutch were attached to our one-car garage. The chickens ran loose around the backyard. Our neighbors didn’t like it, but my father could care less. He didn’t work in a regular job, but he sure kept busy.
He also made homemade beer. It was against the law, since prohibition was the law of the land. Like I said, my father was a mean dude.
He once chased someone around in our backyard with an ax (just to scare him). Only kidding! Yeah, I bet.
There was this lot between our house and the lumberyard on the corner of Holbrook and Conant.
My dad used part of this field for his garden, and I and my buddies used it as a ball-field. We mostly played “stick-ball” (a cut-off broomstick as a bat, and a rubber ball – one that you could throw a breaking curve with – no plastic balls yet). We played fast pitch complete with an umpire. No running bases. We marked off the areas for a single, double, and triple. Homerun was over the fences. Our neighbors didn’t like it, but my dad still could care less.
In the wintertime, we used it as a skating rink. No ice-skates. Hockey sticks and a rubber tennis ball provided us with all the equipment we needed. Sometimes we had ten guys on a side. Lot more noise, a lot of fights, but also a lot of fun. Our neighbors didn’t like this either, but my father said, “Let them eat beans.”
What a great empty lot!
One day in either 1936 or 1937, the lumberyard on the corner of Holbrook and Conant bought the “empty lot” between us for back taxes of about 92 dollars. Boy, that made my father mad. He didn’t know that the lot was up for sale.
One day, on a Monday morning, two men put up six fence posts on the front part of the lot. By the way, the lot was about 40 feet wide and 120 feet deep.
The fence posts were about three feet in the ground and six feet above it. Big fence posts!!
But, “lo and behold,” the next morning they were gone. Just six gaping holes in the earth.
Well, during the night my father and his two sons Walter and Joe were busy little beavers.
About two o’clock in the morning, after fortifying themselves with some old-fashioned moonshine, they whacked hard for a couple of hours and had themselves some firewood.
The next day, they marched right up to the owner and told them that they would do it again and again. The owner was really scared of my dad and his two sons and he agreed to stop putting up the fence for the time being.
My father, Walter and Joe celebrated this event for about three days. My father was a pistol and his sons were sons-of-a-gun.
But six months later, a six-foot fence was erected all around the lot. The lumber company had to have a night watchman on duty to protect the fence.
Eventually, the lumberyard bought the house at 3837/3839 Holbrook (our address) from Joseph and Eleanor Czarnik for a fair price. This happened around 1950. Then they bulldozed our house, the one-car garage, the pigeon coop, and the rabbit hutch.
The lumberyard is still there, and all we have are memories.
Boy, I used to throw a wicked curve to Walter Barbish and Billy Stearla and Stanley Dombroski. Where are they?
On the corner of Conant and Lehman, kitty corner to our house, was this candy store. It sold more than candy, but it wasn’t very big.
“Our gang” hung around this corner and when we had money we would buy some pop, ice cream, candy, etc.
We would be there almost every evening from around 6 o’clock to about 9 o’clock. I think our curfew was 10 p.m.
“The gang” consisted of most of the guys in the neighborhood. We never caused anybody any trouble, never vandalized anything. We were the good guys.
Let’s see, there was Walter Barbish, Bill Stearla, Leonard Stearla and Art Stearla (three brothers), George Kucab, Chester Drobak, Richard Ratalsky, Stanley Dembroski, Walter Pizanowski, and me, Stanley Czarnik.
There were a few others, but the ones above were the mainstay ones.
What did we do there? Mostly talk, horse around, go to the local gym, go to someone’s house, but always ending up at “the corner.”
Wish we had “corners” like that now.
If we weren’t playing baseball or hanging around the corner, then there was radio. And radio was a big attraction in those days before TV
Let’s see if I can remember some of the old programs. We had an old Majestic Console model that picked up about four good stations. They were – WJR, WWJ, WXYZ and WJBK.
Some of the programs were:
- “The Long Ranger” (my favorite)
- “The Green Hornet”
- “Mr. Keen – Tracer of Lost Persons”
- “Fibber McGee and Molly”
- “Jack Benny”
- “Fred Allen”
- “Mystery Theater”
- “Lux Theater”
- “Amos and Andy”
- “One Man’s Family”
- “Red Skelton Show”
- “Cavalcade of Stars”
- “The Hit Parade”
On Saturday afternoons, I would listen to the football games. Of course, there was baseball, the Detroit Tigers. And the Detroit Lions were a power at that time. And the Red Wings – Wow!! I’ll talk about those teams in another chapter.
My dad was not a very religious person but at 5 p.m. every Sunday afternoon, my dad would tune in the Rosary Hour that originated in Buffalo, New York. It was all in Polish. It had a sermon (in Polish), news items, and then the rosary. Guess who shared that hour with my father. Right! It was me! No matter what I was doing, whenever 5 o’clock came around my father didn’t say a word to me about this but I could tell that he was happy to have me there.
One summer, maybe in 1937, I decided to form a softball team with the guys from our neighborhood. We joined a league that played at Playfair Field.
It was a Class “C” league (age limit 16 – fast pitch).
Walter Barbish was our best pitcher and I was his relief pitcher. I played third base. I was a good fielder – one of the best – but a very weak hitter, until I learned how to bat left-handed.
Anyway, the first mistake we made was to name our team “The Robots.” Then the second mistake was to get black and orange jerseys. Before every game, the opposition would parade up and down the sidelines, walking like (you guessed it) robots.
There were eight teams in the league, and we played each team twice and you had to win at least seven games to get into the playoffs. 50% average.
Well, we lost our first seven games by lopsided scores. We were the laughing stock of the league.
We won our eighth game by a score of 2 to 1. Walter Barbish pitched a great game, and we eked out two runs. I think we celebrated for two days. Then we proceeded to win our next five games. In fact, I won two of them.
We were 6 and 7 and all we had to do was to beat the first_place team (the Dandies) to qualify for the playoffs.
We were leading the game 5 to 4 going into the last inning. I always remember this – bases are loaded, two outs and their best hitter hit a liner between the outfielders.
We lost, didn’t make the playoffs, but we were one happy bunch of kids.
The Robots were real live people. We strutted!
I also played a lot of fast pitch hardball. We didn’t have little leagues in those days. But we did have organized baseball teams that were sponsored by the American Legion Post.
It was a pretty good league. Different age groups. Some of the players that played in this league ended up in the Major Leagues. Hal Newhouser was one. I think he’s in the Hall of Fame. He pitched for the Detroit Tigers. Great left-hander.
I usually played third base, great fielder but poor hitter. During the summer vacations we played some type of baseball from early morning to late evening. That was one way to stay out of trouble.
No dope of any kind, no alcohol, no cigarettes. I didn’t start smoking until I was drafted into the army in 1943. By the way, I quit smoking when Marian was born. I quit “cold turkey.”
Before Tiger Stadium there was Briggs Stadium and, before that when I was a kid, it was called Navin Field. That’s where my Detroit Tigers played. In the thirties – 1934 and 1935, they had some great teams.
I did go to some games. You could sit in the open stands in right field for about 60 cents for kids.
I remember going there by streetcar and getting home late at night in the dark after a double-header. I did do a lot of things on my own. My mother died when I was 13 years of age and my dad didn’t pay much attention to me. My older brothers were much older than me, and Al, my younger brother, was sickly and in the hospital most of the time.
So I was determined not to break the law in any way and still try to enjoy the things in life that weren’t too expensive, or were free.
By the way, my favorite Tiger ballplayer in those days was Charles Gehringer, another Hall of Famer.
Walter was and is my first cousin. I’m one year older than he is.
I spent a lot of time at his house. We went to a lot of Red Wings games together down on Grand River, at the old Olympia.
Another first cousin, Ray, remembers our farm. His brother Casmere used to visit us there, and also lived with us on Holbrook Street for a while.
Ray, Walter and I would do some fishing together on Orchard and/or Cass Lakes. Walter had the car.
Ray went to college and became a teacher. Walter Zyszkiewicz worked for Stroh’s Brewing Company. Walter worked at the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle before going to Stroh’s.
I tried out for the Hamtramck High School basketball team, “The Cosmos,” when I was a junior in high school.
I had a pretty good set-shot and I made it to the final cut. But I didn’t make the Varsity. I could have played for Junior Varsity, but I refused.
So I played a lot of basketball at Tau Beta Community House in regular league games. I played in Class B (Class A was tops).
After I got out of the army at 24 years of age, I played in Class A for about three years. Maybe if I hadn’t been smoking, I could have played longer.
No dunk shots – no three-point line.
I predict that by the year 2050, the baskets will be 14 feet from the floor and the players will be 8’2″ tall and weigh 350 pounds. The backboards will be made of iron. And the players will be able to dunk the ball from the foul line.
I graduated from Hamtramck High School in June of 1941.
I had some thoughts of going to college but I had a hunch that the army would soon be after me.
So I got a job, through the school, to work as a hardware clerk at Fromm’s Hardware located on Joseph Campau and Caniff in Hamtramck. I remember it well!
I started at $15.00 per week – 44 hours a week.
I stayed there until I was drafted into the army in April of 1943.
The sergeant came into the waiting room with our physical results. All of us draftees were waiting anxiously to see if we would be serving “Uncle Sam.”
I really didn’t think I passed my physical examination. My weight was only about 143 lbs. and I just knew that my chest x-ray would show a spot on my lung.
The sarge called the names alphabetically. He said, “If you hear your name, pack up your papers and report here a week from today at 1300 for induction into the army.” “Before you leave,” he continued, “we will take the Oath of Allegiance. If your name is not called, please report to the army doctor in the examination room.”
Well, he went through the list and I didn’t hear my name called. But there was one name that he “butchered” pretty badly that started with a “C.” So anyway, I went to the front of the room and asked him about that particular name.
“Oh yes,” he said, “Stanley T. CHERNIAK.” I couldn’t believe it. It said, Stanley Thomas Czarnik. Me!! I was in the army!!
I walked on air for a whole week. My family was really proud of me. My dad acted as though he was the one who was going into the army. I was employed at Fromm’s Hardware on Joseph Campau and Caniff in Hamtramck at that time. I had worked there for almost two years. I worked there for Mr. Art Curtis who was the manager. Two other employees, Julius Kucab and Edward Malinowski, were in the Service already. They were about five years older than me. Ed was a navigator on a small bomber. He was killed in the battle of Tarawa in an air battle.
Julius came back to manage the store in Hamtramck. Later, when Fromm’s sold their business to Damman’s, Julius bought the store. Great for him.
Anyway, I reported for induction along with my brother Joe, Eleanor, his wife, and Raymond, their son. And guess what? Surprise! My dad came along to see me off to Fort Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan.
I was 21 years old, didn’t smoke or drink, but I did like to gamble, and I was off to a brand new adventure. Look out world, here I come!
One thing I’ll always remember was the salute I got from dad as I boarded the train. It paid up for a lot of bad memories.
We arrived at Fort Custer, Battle, Creek, that evening. We were assigned our barracks building.
The next day we were given our army clothing (much too large). The next five days we were all evaluated as to where we would “fit in” to best help the army. All kinds of tests – written, oral, Morse Code, leadership, etc.
By the end of the week I knew I’d be sent to Officers Training School (OCS) in Texas. I scored pretty well in the I.Q. tests. But I sure didn’t want to be an officer.
Mitchell Baran and I were the only ones selected from the 52 men inducted from Draft #17, Hamtramck, and I wasn’t too happy about it.
We arrived by train two days later at a small town located between Houston and the coastal town of Galveston.
We would get our basic training here at Camp Wallace where already in April the heat was oppressive, and the mosquitoes were big enough to carry you away.
Whee! Got my wish! The school for candidates for officers training was shut down, and I was assigned to a communications school.
Besides going to school, I had to take my basic training. Much to my surprise, basic training wasn’t that tough for me.
But I was low man on the totem pole as far as the Morse Code class was concerned. I just couldn’t catch on to those dots and dashes at first. The sergeant in charge of the school told me that one week was all I had left to shape up or he would transfer me to the infantry.
That really shook me up! I didn’t want any part of the ground troops. So, to make a long story short, here’s what happened:
The first table at the Morse Code school started at five words per minute. The next day I passed the test at the first table. Once I caught on to the sound of dah-dit-dah, by the end of the week I leap-frogged all the way to 25 words per minute. A person had to do at least 17 words per minute to pass the course. In another week I was doing 35 words and using a special fast “bug” to send messages.
Before the course was over, I was assigned to helping slower students with the techniques of learning the Morse Code. In fact, they wanted to keep me there in Camp Wallace after my basic training as cadre, to help teach the course. But I wanted to go ahead with my friends.
One thing I was uncomfortable about in Texas was the racial discrimination in the cities of Texas. Of course, we also had it up north but down here (and it was all new to me) they had such things as drinking fountains for “colored only,” and “white only.” This also was true in buses, restaurants, and bathrooms.
The black people were expected to move out of your way and make room for whites on the sidewalks. Of course, the military services were all segregated at that time. While I was stationed at Camp Wallace, there was a big race riot in Detroit! We also had one there in Texas, in a small town near our camp. I can’t think of the name of that city.
We had a lot of southerners in our barracks, and they were always talking about the “niggers.” Terrible! I stayed clear of the prejudiced racists.
I was very happy to leave Texas.
I remember Sergeant Red, who was our cook and part of the permanent cadre, walking around our room one day saying, “Anyone want to shoot a little craps?”
Well that evening I cleaned up on a few sergeants and other unlisted men. In other words, the dice were hot for me.
Guess what? It was my turn for a weekend pass, but I ended up on K.P. (kitchen patrol) that weekend, peeling potatoes, etc., and working for Sergeant Red. Actually, later on he and I became good friends and I started to put on weight.
The matter of fact is that I had better balanced meals in the army than I ever had at home.
Five o’clock comes around pretty early in the morning. Everyone has to report for roll-call every morning, and it’s still quite dark.
So we took turns saying, “Here,” for three other buddies who were in the barracks sleeping under their bunks.
We also learned how to miss our Saturday inspections, how to get a weekend pass, how to sleep during class. But actually dodging all this work wasn’t worth it because you were always worried about getting caught. So I made up my mind to keep my nose clean and do the best I could.
We knew that we were all being assigned to the 6th Army in the Pacific war zone. We could hardly wait to fight the “Japs.”
When we first got to Camp Wallace, we were issued a Springfield 1903 rifle. It was the old-fashioned bolt-action rifle. It wasn’t worth a lick.
Later on, a month later, we received an MI, a semi-automatic seven-shot rifle. This was a good “piece,” and the one we trained on and kept more or less during the entire war. I was a fairly good shot. I scored and received a good marksmanship rating during basic training.
I remember taking a 25-mile hike one night and after ten miles we took a ten-minute break. We unloaded our full pack and rifle and laid back under the stars. And then the sergeant said, “Let’s go.” So we all jumped up and started on our way. It was about a 1/2 mile later that I realized that I didn’t have my rifle on my shoulder. Wow! I took off like a bat out of hell, yelling at the “Sarge” that I left my “piece” behind. By golly, I found it. But it took me about an hour of extra hiking at double-time to get back to my squad. We did complete the 25 miles in full gear, got into camp about 6 a.m., had breakfast, and slept all day.
Basic training lasted about 14 weeks. They tried to teach us to be good soldiers, fire a gun, learn about hand-to-hand fighting, chemical warfare, jungle warfare, and remember always obey your superiors.
After my basic training I was in good shape but I still weighed only about 150 lbs.
I didn’t start smoking until I got into the army. After that I smoked about a pack a day until Marian was born. Then one day I quit cold-turkey. I haven’t had a smoke of any kind for almost 40 years. Good old Lucky Strikes was my brand of coffin nails, no filters.
In the army we were furnished free cigarettes overseas, such brands as Chelsea and Phillip Morris. Almost everyone smoked, but that was the extent of our addictions, besides booze (more about that later on).
Sometime in September of 1943 we completed our basic training and radio school. Before heading for California, they (army) decided to give us a ten-day furlough.
I had a great time at home on leave. Everyone was really friendly and all the relatives really put out the red carpet. But ten days didn’t last long and I was back on my way to Texas. Both ways, I rode the rails. No plane rides in those days.
I graduated from radio school with the highest score as a Morse Code operator (about 40 words per minute). I was made PFC, private first class (one stripe).
When my dad heard about my promotion, brother Joe said that my dad told everyone in the bar that I made first-class “General.” He was very happy. By the way, the army took 20% of my monthly check and matched it, and my father received a monthly allotment check as a hardship case. My dad saved most of this money and offered it to me when I returned home after the war. But I refused it. When he died, my brother Al got all of this money so he could start a new life for himself after his discharge from a TB sanitarium. My brothers Walter and Joe and I agreed to this deal without any hesitation. It came to about 1,200 dollars.
It did help give Alex a start in life. He lived with cousin Walter Zyszkiewicz for a while, then he got his own apartment on the west side of Detroit. He got a good job working downtown as a lithographer. He really enjoyed his work. He used to come over to our house on Carrie for dinner on a Sunday afternoon once in a while. His favorite meal was chicken rice stew. I think Tom, Kitty and Peggy remember him best, maybe Paul, too.
He died in November of 1968 at the age of 42. Sad night.
He left about a total of $20,000 which was divided up between Walter Czarnik, Joseph Czarnik, Walter Zyszkiewicz, and me. It came to about 5,000 dollars apiece. Cousin Walt was included in the hand-written letter (will) because Al lived with Walter, Mitchell and Bernice on Sobieski Street. Mitchell and Bernice each got one third of the money from their brother Walter. They also got Al’s furniture from the apartment.
Actually, my name was on all of Al’s bank accounts and insurance policies. But he trusted me to make sure everyone got their share of the money. For acting as the executor of his will (per se), I did get his 1963 Buick skylark. From that day on, we always had two cars. One last thing, it was agreed by everyone to put some of the money aside to buy headstones for our mother and father, besides Al’s headstone.
Alex wanted to be cremated if that was possible without breaking any church laws. If he couldn’t be cremated, he wanted to lay in repose for only one night and be buried the next day.
I followed his orders on that. He was laid out at the Balmas Funeral Home, had his burial Mass at St. Louis the King Church (Msgr. Smarlatz had the Mass) and was interned at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
On such short notice, it was a large funeral. He had a lot of friends at work and all of our relatives were there.
I’m very proud of my brother Alexander and, in his short life on earth, he left his mark. Today I still think of him a lot.
NOTE: Paul and his wife Donna named their son Alexander after my brother Alexander.
The train ride took about three days across Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and then into California.
We arrived at Fort Ord, California, sometime in October of 1943. This was to be our port of debarkation en route to the South Pacific Theater of War.
Fort Ord (it was still there in 1989) was a place where you got training in jungle warfare and hand-to-hand combat fighting, also how to get in and out of landing crafts (LSTs).
Fort Ord is located between Monterey and Salinas. Even then, I really liked the Montery Peninsula.
After a month of training, we were shipped to San Francisco to board a troop ship going to New Caledonia for assignment to a permanent unit.
Troop ship U.S.S. Jane Addams left San Francisco sometime in November 1943 loaded (packed) with soldiers.
When we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on that cloudy, rainy morning, I wondered if I would ever come back. I felt so all alone, but not for long. I found my first “craps” game.
For the first three days aboard the U.S.S. Addams, I never left my bunk. I was very seasick. I couldn’t eat or walk. Finally, after three days my craps-shooting buddy, Bob, got me to go on deck and look the ocean in the eye. I made sure that I did my looking near a “head.” Boy, the sea was rough and we kept zigging and zagging in case there were any Japanese submarines present.
Well, I finally got my sea legs and Bob and I started on our dice game which was to last the next 17 days. He would handle the money, and I would shoot the dice and place the bets. He made sure that all bets were covered, and collected the bets or paid out, whatever the results were.
When we docked in New Caledonia, we had about $1,800 in cash winnings – $900 apiece.
We slept, ate, and gambled most of the time. You ate twice a day. There were so many troops on the ship that by the time you ate the first time, you had to get back in line for your second meal.
Those were long lines!
This island was owned by the French, and was and still is located east of Australia and, of course, below the Equator, about 6,000 miles from Detroit.
This was a staging area for troops coming from the United States and here we were assigned to different areas of the Pacific to try and recapture some of our islands back from the Japs, also to protect Australia from invasion.
We were all under the 6th Army and our Commander-in-Chief was General Douglas A. MacArthur.
We were here almost a week. With six other men, I was assigned to the 68th Brigade Headquarters which was stationed in Guadalcanal at that time. This outfit was in charge of all anti-aircraft guns stationed throughout the Solomon Islands. Bob Green, John Fouthy, Bob Cerney, Bob Stewart, Charles Scavola and I were to be the heart of their radio Morse Code communication system.
So off we went to Guadalcanal on one December 9th, 1943.
Our commander of the 68th Brigade was Colonel French, who was “bucking” for General.
We arrived at Guadalcanal on the 14th of December 1943 and all of us were put in the communication section of the Brigade. Bob Green, John Fouthy and I were assigned to the same tent.
We had our regular duties such as 12 hours on duty in the radio shack and then 24 hours off in our regular tent home. We also had to perform other duties such as guard duty, trash pickup, going to the dock to pick up supplies from the ships for our daily food supply. We were all excused from K.P. work. We had a regular kitchen patrol crew.
We ate really good there because our cook was a big crook. He would write up phony invoices and pick up fresh fruit and fresh meat on a daily basis from the ships docked at the piers. He never got caught doing this while I was there. So we ate a lot of steaks, even for breakfast.
We had a great Christmas that year, the only good one I had while in the army. All the other Christmases were spent aboard some troop ship.
|Weather||Very hot, rain in the morning, hot and humid the rest of the day.|
|Malaria||I had it twice while in the Pacific – high fever, chills, very weak. It lasted about two weeks, once on the way home.|
|Recreation||Volleyball, baseball, horseshoes and, of course, gambling.|
|Natives||Most of the natives had orange hair, due to washing their hair in some chemical. Very bushy!|
|Fishing||Most of the fishing we did was with hand grenades. Throw one in the river – BOOM – a lot of fish surfaced, belly up.|
|Favorite Song||“Wabash Cannonball”|
|Letters||Not very many. Got some from Ann Singer. Used to go to school with her. Also played some ping-pong at her house. Nice girl!!|
|Food||Not bad, not good.|
|Money||Not much, but I was lucky at cards.|
Remember, about 20% of my monthly pay went to my dad as he was my dependent, and the government matched it.
Here is how one Private Lecki described Guadalcanal in his book:
“She was a mass of slops and stinks and pestilence, of scum-crested lagoons and vile swamps inhabited by giant crocodiles, a place of spiders as big as your fist, and wasps as long as your fingers, of lizards, tree leeches, scorpions — centipedes that leave the human skin a track of inflamed flesh.
“By night, mosquitoes came in close – bringing malaria, dengal, or any one of a dozen filthy exotic fevers. — and Guadalcanal stank! She was sour with the odor of her own decay – humid, sullen, and still.” (End of quote)
I know we also had to take a pill call Alabrine, a yellow pill to protect you against malaria. Everyone had to swallow one in front of a medic before he could eat. Some balked at taking this pill, believing that it would make them impotent. It did turn your skin yellow.
It was my turn on guard duty that night. It was a hot and moonless night. I hated guard duty! You had to protect the camp not only from the Japs, but from the natives and also wild boars.
Anyway, after an uneventful night of the 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift, I came off guard duty, went into my tent which I shared with Robert Green and John Fouthy. I pulled the clip on my M1 rifle. I had the rifle aimed at JohnFouthy. I also had a live bullet in the chamber of my piece. But at the last moment, I pulled the “M1” up and pulled the trigger and “bang” the bullet went out off the top of the tent. So John lived only to die in the invasion of the Philippines later on.
Later that day, Chaplain Salisburg, our commanding officer, called me in to lecture me on the correct procedure of unloading a clip from a M1 rifle.
No one knew except me how close I came to killing a close friend of mine.
Even now, I still have dreams about it.
Remember, I almost drowned when I lived on the farm, and my mother pulled me out of the rain barrel.
Well, one day a bunch of us were riding the surf of the Pacific Ocean on our mattress covers. We would run along the beach with the cover open on one end and get it full of air. And then we would tie it up, and VOILA, a balloon.
I laid on my “float” on my back and let the undertow take me out for a ride.
I think that about 15 minutes later I looked up and I was a long way from the pounding surf and shore. At first I panicked and started yelling for help. No one heard me!
Finally, I decided to get back on my mattress cover and slowly started kicking my way back to the surf.
It took me about two hours, but I got back to shore.
And no one missed me!!
We stayed on Guadalcanal until May 6th, 1944. The island was secured from the enemy (Japs). There were some remnants of the foe in the thick terrain of the mountains, but most of them were either killed or escaped back to Japan.
The capture of the Solomon chain of islands was the first step in regaining the initiative of this war in the Pacific.
Once in a while a Japanese Zero would fly over Guadalcanal and drop a bomb and, of course, we all called him “one-bomb Charlie.” Every island had one of these weird bombers.
Our Colonel French got bored so he decided that our outfit, the 68th Brigade, should move up closer to the war front. Since we were the headquarters and in charge of the placement of heavy artillery of the 6th Army under General Douglas A. MacArthur, they decided we should move on to the upper island of the Solomon Chain to Bougainville.
It really didn’t matter to me at that time in my life. I never figured that I would make it back home again (maybe in a wooden box).
We only had troops in a small perimeter of this large island, maybe about six miles, enough for an airstrip and room enough for about two thousand troops. The rest of the island was wilderness and occupied by the Japanese.
We got there about May 11th, 1944, and spent about seven months there.
Well, some things did happen. We had two active volcanoes, and about once a week we would have a minor earthquake. I can remember one major earthquake we had at night. It knocked us out of our cots. Whew, what fun!
I was made Sergeant Third Class and was put in charge of teaching a class on Morse Code and proper radio procedures. I had two separate classes, two hours each, with about eight students in each class. These students were Army and Navy, and some of them were flown in from other islands. Robert Green and John Fouthy were my other instructors. This was a great experience for me and we really did a good job, and also had a lot of free time.
Jimmy Soots was a Master Sergeant in the Intelligence Department of the Brigade, G2. He wasn’t very tall, reminded me of James Cagney of the movies. But he was a promoter
He decided that our outfit should have a baseball team. He would be the manager and our team would challenge other teams on our island and adjoining islands.
So I tried out for the team as a shortstop. I was a good fielder but just a “punch” hitter. But if you could field, you made the team. I batted left-handed, walked a lot, got hit a lot, and sprayed a few hits to left field.
Kidding aside, we had a good team. This was fast pitch, hard ball, and we had one hellava pitcher, Bill Schultz. He went on to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, I think.
Anyhow, we had the Army Ordnance build us a baseball field and we challenged everyone in the Solomon Islands to play us – and they came from all over. Every Sunday afternoon we had baseball games, usually a double-header. And you wouldn’t believe the money that was bet on these games.
Our best competition came from a team right on the same island, Bougainville, that we were on. It was an all-Negro team (we say black today).
In those days the Army and all services were segregated, all black, all white. It wasn’t until World War II ended that President Harry Truman ended that dumb phase of our history.
Anyhow, this all black team was really good and we had more fun playing against them than anyone else. And they beat us as often as we beat them.
On purpose sometimes, for the benefit of the fans, they would put on a display of being a dumb “nigger” by saying, “Yah-suh Master” to the umpires, or saying “Excuse me, Sir” while stealing second base. And they showed the whites of their eyes long before the Detroit Pistons did that in 1988.
The Marines would go on patrol everyday outside of our perimeter and try to pick up or capture some “Japs.”
The Japanese Army couldn’t get any food or ammo to them, so they were starving and were staying pretty close to our part of the island.
But we never took any prisoners because the Marines had the reputation of never taking a prisoner alive. Of course the Japs weren’t very civilized either. They marched us to death in Bataan. Great War!
Bougainville is 125 miles long, with narrow beaches bordered by vast swamps, and the interior was tangled and mountainous. The Marines invaded in a surprise move, bypassed Buin, the part of the island where the Japanese had their airstrip, and hit Empress Augusta Bay, about half-way up Bougainville’s west coast. This invasion took place on November 1, 1943, and the horseshoe type perimeter was more or less secured by January 1, 1944.
An airstrip was built and the distance toward the bombing of Japan came closer.
Our outfit, the 68th Brigade, was in charge of all anti-aircraft guns protecting the area and airstrips all over the South Pacific.
The complete perimeter was a costly one. The battle raged for 17 days, tree to tree, hand to hand. By the end of April 1944, Japan lost 7,000 soldiers, and we lost 1,000 men.
War is great, isn’t it?
Anyway, this was Bougainville, safe and more or less secure, before our outfit, the 68th Brigade, arrived there.
Our outfit, the 68th Brigade, was divided up in two parts. Half of our radio division was to go on the invasion of Leyte of the Philippines on October 20th, 1944. The other half would stay behind and train for the invasion of the larger island, Luzon, of the Philippines.
I was chosen to stay behind and be in charge of the Morse Code part of the radio section going to Luzon, leaving sometime on December 2nd, 1944. I was 22 years old and would have about 12 men under me, all of them older than me! Great! I was scared!
Most of my good buddies left on the October Leyte invasion – my two good friends, Robert Green of Chicago, and Bob Cerney of Iowa. But one good friend, John Fouthy, the guy I almost shot, stayed behind with me.
Leyte Island of the Philippines was invaded by the Sixth Army under General Krueger. There was light opposition. By nightfall 132,400 men and 200,000 tons of equipment and supplies were ashore.
Four hours after the first landing, General MacArthur waded ashore and broadcast his famous “I have returned” address to the Filipinos (MacArthur was to be filmed three more times wading ashore at other beaches during the next few days) What a guy – BOO!
I never did find out whatever happened to all my friends – dead or alive.
After getting all our training, shots, and briefing, we were ready to get out of Bougainville and head out to meet our armada of ships and planes that would take us to the Philippines.
This convoy of battleships, destroyers, airplane carriers, and troopships was to be the largest ever to assemble in the history of the war in the Pacific.
On our way to Luzon, we had to go near the Leyte Gulf and that’s where we met up one evening on January 6, 1945, with about 33 Japanese Kamikaze pilots attacking our fleet which was leaving Leyte Gulf for Luzon.
Our landing site was to be Lingayen Gulf halfway up the west coast of Luzon, the Philippine’s largest island. From there, we were to drive 110 miles south to our primary objective, the port and capital city of Manila.
Our six-day trip from Leyte Gulf to Lingayen Gulf turned out to be an ordeal.
The 850-ship convoy of ours sailed through the Suregao Strait, passed Mindora, and headed north along the west coast of Pavay, Mindoro and Luzon.
All the way up the coast we ran into a gauntlet of Kamikaze attacks.
Fortunately for us Sixth Army soldiers, our crowded troop transports traveled three days behind Admiral Oldendorf’s group of battleships, cruisers, escort carriers and destroyers.
Their mission was to bombard the beaches, knock out Japanese defenses and support the troops after their landings. But by bearing the brunt of the Kamikaze storm, his force made a major contribution of an entirely different sort.
But some of the suicide pilots did attack our troopships. In fact, one just missed our ship, the U.S.S. Kilimbla, and scored a direct hit on a ship next to ours.
The first blow fell on January 4th, when a twin-engined Japanese bomber lunged into the escort carrier, Ormaney Bay, killing 97 men. The carrier was so badly damaged, it had to be scuttled.
Late the next afternoon 16 suicide planes attacked our fleet, hitting nine U.S. and Australian warships, including two heavy cruisers and an escort carrier.
The Japanese pilots were using every available way to attack. Man! They were coming from everywhere, but our fleet steamed on.
As we entered Lingayen Gulf on January 6th, 1944, Japan ordered the last big Kamikaze strike of the Philippines campaign.
One flaming Kamikaze plowed into the bridge of the battleship New Mexico, killing 29 men, including her captain.
The cruiser Louisville was knocked out of action by a plane that exploded on the bridge and killed 32 men. In the worst day for the U.S. Navy in more than two years, 11 vessels had been badly damaged, one minesweeper sunk, one cruiser crippled and hundreds of American and Australian soldiers killed.
During all these battles, we were down below the decks in watertight rooms. In case our part of the ship was hit, our room was our coffin. We did receive a running description of the wild Kamikaze attacks on our fleet. After dark, we were allowed on deck.
One night, just at sunset, we were let on top-ship a little early and we saw our escort carrier, Kithun Bay, get a direct solid hit from a Kamikaze. What an explosion!!
The Japs were running out of planes and pilots. We were also plastering their planes on Clark Field in Luzon.
The last two suicide planes hit two troop transports but no serious damage was done.
From the beach on Linagayan Gulf, a message was received from the Filipino guerrillas saying that there will be no, repeat no, opposition on the beaches. But the Navy had no choice; they were under direct orders to bombard the coast. Our Admiral Oldendorf had planes drop leaflets warning the citizens of coastal towns to evacuate, and then for about 24 hours blasted the shores for our invasion troops.
At 9:30 a.m., 68,000 men of General Krueger’s Sixth Army began coming ashore.
Part of our outfit, the 68th Brigade, reached shore about 1:30 p.m.
We came down the rope ladder with about 60 lbs. on our backs, and into our landing craft, an LCI. After making sure everyone was accounted for, we took off for shore. But we never quite got there. Because of the shelling, a lot of those shells hit short of the beachhead and dug large sand piles underneath the water. Our craft got stuck on one of these dunes, and we were about 100 feet from shore.
The front end of the LCI came down, and our leader, Colonel French, leaped into the water shouting, “Follow me, men,” and disappeared. He wasn’t very tall anyhow, and all you could see was his hand clutching a pistol. That sure relieved the tension! We, of course, followed our leader and dog-paddled our way onto the beachhead. Our M1 rifle and all our ammunition were wet and useless.
Thank God, there was no opposition. Only the Filipinos were out waving American flags which they had hidden in their damaged homes, and greeted us with a joyous celebration.
In the first few days, the assault forces quickly captured the coastal towns and spread out along dusty roads to secure a 25-mile-long beachhead.
Our outfit dug in the first night with an infantry unit. We each dug our own foxholes and spent our first sleepless night in the Philippines.
We were shelled that night and again the next night. Our outfit lost about 18 men and one of them, believe it or not, was John Fouthy, my good friend that I almost shot that one morning. I came off guard duty. Wow! One shell landed in his foxhole. Wow!
The infantry and marines kept going onwards toward Manila, capturing it after a stubborn battle, and freeing a lot of American prisoners.
Our outfit stayed behind near the coast of Lingayan Gulf for about six months. After that, we moved to Manila and established our headquarters there right in the city.
After the fighting was over, we really had a great time in the Philippines. We played a lot of baseball, volleyball and pitched a lot of horseshoes. Of yes, we also played a lot of ping-pong.
Did I ever tell you about the time I won the enlisted men’s horseshoe pitching championship? Well, I did. I used to shoot about 50% (that is 2 of 4 shoes I threw were ringers).
The officers had a good horseshoe tosser also, and they challenged me.
Well, one Sunday afternoon in August 1945, with a lot of money being bet, Lieutenant Trask and Sergeant Czarnik squared off for the championship of Manila.
It was a “no-contest.” Who would win the first three games? I won something like 21-9; 21-13, and 21 to 3.
When I got out of the army I met this same Lieutenant Trask at a Red Wing hockey game and he was still in the army.
He didn’t remember me, until I told him about our horseshoe match. Boy, was he surprised.
After the war, I also met my old baseball manager, Sgt. Soots. He was also still in the army, but he didn’t recognize me because he was drunker than a hoot owl.
Our outfit was getting ready to go on the invasion of Japan. In fact, we got most of our “shots” and winter clothing, and then President Harry S. Truman ordered the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The bombs killed a lot of innocent people, but I have mixed feelings about this because it also saved a lot of American soldiers who would have been killed on the invasion of Japan.
I hope this never happens again. I really was against our involvement in the Vietnam War, too. I hated that war! But I’m equally proud of the men (and women) who served in it. This war tore our people apart.
After Japan surrendered on August 14th, 1945, I had enough time served overseas to put me on the list to go home. But I had to wait my turn.
Finally, after about 28 months in the South Pacific, I was sent home in late December of 1945 from Manila. This time the boat trip took about a week for me to arrive in San Francisco, California.
I remember listening to the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day on the troopship on the way to the United States.
I spent about three days there (cold days) and then I was transferred to Fort Sheridan in Chicago for my discharge.
Passed my physical exam, got my Honorable Discharge papers and three hundred dollars.
I think I arrived in Detroit about 10:00 p.m. via train.
Took a bus from downtown Detroit and got home about midnight.
No one knew I was coming but there I was. Never thought I would make it back home.
It took me about two weeks to get up enough nerve to call Ann Singer, and see if those letters we wrote to each other meant anything.
It did! We did! And that’s why you six kids are here today, and we really love you all!
P.S. The 33 months I spent in the army are like a dream in a different world. Like it never happened!
This part of my true story is finished but in the following chapters, I’ll just recall some things, mostly fun and happy.
Helen was married to Stanley Lipka, brother of Walter Lipka. They had five children, Joan, Richard, Lorraine, Carol and Ronald. Ronald, I think it was his name, died very young, about a year old.
They lived on Cally Street, and then on Buffalo in a housing project. Stanley worked for Briggs Mfg. Company.
I used to visit them about once a week. The kids used to see me working at Fromm’s Hardware, and would call me “Uncle Chuck.” Why? I don’t know.
NOTE: I got to see Helen in the hospital after I got out of the army in 1946. She cried on my shoulder. She was so happy to see me alive and well.
I cried because I knew she would soon die.
When I was a young boy growing up in Hamtramck, I was quite close to Mary, Walter and Diane. Diane was a cute baby with wavy hair and she looked like her mother. Mary was about 5 ft, 7 inches tall, and had dark hair. She liked sports and liked to play cards.
She was in and out of the hospital. She was supposed to be cured of TB, but finally the disease reoccurred and she wouldn’t go back to the hospital to be treated.
Walter was like a big brother to me. He played the piano. He could play almost any song once he heard it – no notes – just by ear. Boy, could he play honky-tonk. He also played the banjo. Quite a guy.
He and Mary were a devoted couple. He took very good care of her when she was sick. After she died, he never remarried because he said, “Mary would be waiting for him in heaven.” I’m sure they are there together.
He was glad I married Ann because he said she looked like Mary when she was young.
I was working at Fromm’s Hardware in Highland Park on June 23rd, 1952, when I got a telephone call that my father was dying.
He was hospitalized at St. Francis Hospital in Hamtramck. He was being treated for asthma and had contracted pneumonia. He’d been in an oxygen tent for several days and finally his heart gave out. I was there with my brothers, Joe and Walter, when he died. Amen.
My brother Joe died March 11, 1972. He was 64 years old. I remember being at the hospital along with Eleanor, his wife, and Ray, Joe and Patty. I think it was the Detroit General, located on Carpenter near JosephCampau.
I think Joe died of hardening of the arteries, due to his hard-drinking ways as a young man.
My brother Walter died in a nursing home. He was 76 years old when he passed away. He didn’t exactly have “Alzheimer’s” disease, but he did have a lapse of memory. Walter in his prime could do any crossword puzzle in five minutes flat. He could also add large numbers like: for example, 373 x 227 in his mind and come up with the correct answer – in seconds. No kidding!
When helping to teach your child to ride a two-wheel bike, you have to have a strong heart, good legs, and a lot of good wind. But the most important thing is to know when to let go of the bicycle.
Yelling things like, “Keep pumping!” “Keep steering!” “No, I won’t let go!” (But I did.)
Tom took off on his own in Palmer Park.
Kitty took off down Albany Street.
Peggy, oh was I glad when Peg took off on her own.
I think Paul soloed alone in the Marion Law playground.
Marian learned pretty quick.
I must have been about 45 years when Monica yelled, “Don’t let go,” but I did. She took off!
Teaching your child to drive a car is a fun and exciting job, but worrisome.
Things I think I remember:
Tom was a very careful driver.
Kitty, as we turned the corner on Lantz into Carrie, went over the curb. This was on the way back from getting her driving permit.
Peggy was a fast learner. Much better than a bike.
Paul got his license the earliest because he needed to drive himself to St. Augustine to play the organ.
Marian and Monica were taught by Mom. The both did very well. Is that where Monica gets all that speed? Just kidding.
We bought this car in 1946 after I got out of the army. It was a roadster with a rumble seat. Had it for about a year. Sold it to an old man from Flat Rock, Michigan, for a hundred dollars. I should have kept it.
Bought it in 1947 from Frank Faletti. What a lemon!
Bought it in 1951 from my boss, Hal Fromm. Good car! Some drunk slid into me on an icy night and totaled the car. Some slick-talking insurance adjuster only gave me $200 for it and I took it. Dumb!
Bought from a neighbor. What a piece of junk. It had a big hole in the floorboard on the driver’s side. I had the car shot!
Nice car! Loved it!
Blue station wagon – 9 passenger. Great car. Had it for years.
Large station wagon – good car. Big gas eater.
Got it from my brother Al after he died in 1968. After that we became a two-family car owner. Great sports car. Al loved it, and we really enjoyed owning it.
First car we owned and bought that was brand new. It was a small compact car. We drove it to New York City for a visit to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Paul, Marian and Monica came along with us. We had Mass said at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on August 10th, 1971.
The car died a slow death in 1975.
New car – good car.
I drove it to Phoenix with Tim Nowicki to pick up Paul. Later on in 1976, Ann and I with Marian and Monica drove it across the U.S.A. to California. Our air conditioner gave out in Arizona.
Red station wagon. Not bad. We drove it cross country to California and back with Marian and Monica in 1978. Great trip! Sold it to Paul in 1984.
Blue hatchback. Best car I ever owned. Traded it in 1989 for a Taurus.
Beige station wagon. Ann loves this car. We will soon trade it in for a new Escort. We drove this car one summer to Florida, then to Indiana and Michigan, back to Indiana where Marian had her first child, then cross country to San Diego and back to Livermore, California. Almost nine thousand miles.
New – 6 cylinder. Still have it.
I stopped at a traffic light one Saturday afternoon near Outer Drive and Seven Mile Road. A 1981 Blue Ford Mustang pulled up next to me and it was the exact duplicate of the Mustang sport car we had bought recently. So I pointed to his car, then to mine, smiled, and gave him an O.K. sign. He gave me a funny look and sped off as soon as the light changed.
Then it dawned on me that I was driving Ann’s 1978 RED Pinto station wagon!
GOOFY AND ME
Ann, Marian and Monica were walking ahead of me in Disneyland in California. I was lagging behind. Then I looked ahead and saw them posing with Goofy and someone was taking their picture. I dashed over and got there in time to have my picture taken with three strange women and Goofy.
I wonder how I came out?
When Father Kijek asked me to coach the St. Louis the King basketball team, I couldn’t refuse. It meant coaching the 6th and 7th graders, and Paul Czarnik was one of the players.
I coached for only three years because it took too much of my time. But it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Our second year was the best season. We won nine games and lost three, finished second in our league, and made the playoffs. Won our first game but then were eliminated in our second game. Great season!
I remember one highlight. Before every game we said a little prayer before going out on the gym floor. And I always raised my eyes toward the heavens. This one time as I looked up, lo and behold, the boys had hung ajocky strap around the light globe.