Walter “Larry” Chrzan

Larry Chrzan’s mother didn’t want him to join the Navy; she feared that if he were killed in battle at sea his body might never be found.  But Larry had a compelling but personally peculiar reason to join the Navy.  As a Depression-era teenager, he had spent several years in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), dressed in a uniform similar to the Army’s.  At the time of his World War II enlistment, he was ready for a change of clothes.

Larry served for two and a half years, most of it aboard the USS Cleveland (CL-55)–a light cruiser longer than two football fields, weighing 10,000 tons, and carrying 1200 men.  With prodigious recall of facts, figures, names, dates, incidents and locations, Larry detailed a gunnery career battling Japanese forces in the Pacific at such hotspots as Guam, Guadalcanal, Saipan and the Philippines.

At war’s end, Larry returned home to his Strip District immigrant neighborhood.  From the densely populated block at Penn Avenue, Mulberry Way and 28th Street where he had grown up, more than a dozen young men went to war.  “On that whole block,” he recalled, “I was the only one that made it.”

Larry died at age 91, nine days after recording this interview.

During the early afternoon of September 15, 2012, 91 year old Larry Chrzan and his son David joined us for our interview in the glorious Gettysburg Room of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section.

We were delighted that Mr. Chrzan had brought so many photographs and other memorabilia with him that day.   It’s always a delightful privilege that we may look back through the years at the images of young sailors and soldiers–forever so youthful and carefree in those now faded and fragile old photographs.

Veterans’ scrapbooks, like their stories and memories, are often so frail from age and use that we have to gingerly plumb through them with the utmost care.  Still, they are for us and future generations amazing portals into the past.  Time machines.

Larry’s was our second oral history interview that gorgeous and sun filled afternoon.  Yet, a hint of Fall was in the air, the eventual changing of the seasons.   It was a gentle reminder that, as it is with so many of the elderly veterans we’ve come to know through our project, the  golden days of Summer eventually draw to an end.

Thank you for your stories and your service our nation, Mr. Chrzan.

Larry Chrzan, age 91, of Westmoreland County, formerly of Pittsburgh, after a wonderful life filled with many friends and adventures, died suddenly on Wednesday, September 26, 2012. He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Katherine (Myjak) Chrzan; and more recently, by his loving daughter, Nancy Ann Chrzan. He is survived by his former spouse, Anna M. (Stolarski) Chrzan; his children, Kathleen Smith, David (Susan) Chrzan, Larry (Janet) Chrzan; his grandchildren and great- grandchildren; his sister, Helen Markovich; nieces and nephews; his companion, Elsie Paich; his extended family, Millie DeMore and Cindy Cavallucci.

Larry served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was a plank owner of the U.S.S. Cleveland and was awarded eight battle stars while serving in North Africa and the South Pacific. He later served on the U.S.S. Gustafson in the North Atlantic. Larry held many union positions, starting as a union steward at Helms Express and was elected to numerous positions in the Teamsters Local #30 and served as president for the last 12 years that he was in office ending in 1984. From 1985-2011, he was the president of the Teamsters Local #30 Federal Credit Union. He was a charter member of the PA Conference of Teamsters, trustee of the Teamsters Joint Council #40, a board member of the Western Westmoreland Municipal Authority for 25 years and was a member of the V.F.W. Post #781.

In his memory, Larry would request that you “VOTE DEMOCRAT.” In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, 200 Magnolia Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15228.

Family and friends were received at the Walter J. Zalewski Funeral Home, 216 44th Street, Lawrenceville, on Thursday 6-8 p.m. and Friday 2-8 p.m.  A Funeral Mass at St. Stanislaus Church was held on Saturday at 10 a.m. Interment was at Allegheny Cemetery with Military Honors.

Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from September 27 to September 28, 2012.

See also, Veteran’s life of service continued with Teamsters