Medal mystery: Alsip man battles to verify World War II records
BY HANNAH KOHUT Correspondent September 20, 2012 9:00PM
Navy veteran Peter Chrzanowski stands next to the model of a PBM-5 Mariner, a plane he served on, and a shadow box full of his documents, dog tags, medals and photos from WWII at his home in Alsip, Illinois, Wednesday, August 29, 2012. Chrzanowski is trying to get an Air Medal Award, which he only recently found out he is more than qualified for. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 22, 2012 6:02AM
Last spring, 90-year-old Peter Chrzanowski logged onto the Internet for the first time ever.
Little did he know he was about to launch one of the biggest battles of his life.
Chrzanowski, of Alsip, served in the Navy as an airplane mechanic during World War II. He and his crew conducted reconnaissance missions over the Pacific Ocean, looking for enemy activity so they could report it to their base in Okinawa.
Chrzanowski logged more than 900 flight hours. He knows this because he still has his original flight ledger, documenting each mission, how many hours they were in the air, and with his pilot and commanding officer’s stamps of approval.
Based on his Internet research, Chrzanowski believes he is entitled to an Air Medal for his service but never received one.
Now, nearly 70 years later, his attempt to get recognition on his DD-214, his official military record, is proving to be a battle all its own.
“I really don’t know why I didn’t get my Air Medal award,” Chrzanowski said. “I thought when you left the squadron, it was automatic. The pilot had to put the requisition in for the Air Medal, and apparently he never did.”
Chrzanowski said his brother-in-law, Chester Suczynski, who served on the same squadron in the same capacity, got his medal from the 9th Naval District after the war.
“Who put that one (request) in?” said Chrzanowski, who believes his case simply was a matter of oversight because of the logjam of paperwork after the war’s end.
Chrzanowski’s daughter, Marie Mosqueda, has been leading the charge in this mission for her father.
She has stacks of correspondence and envelopes documenting her attempts to have his service verified, but she consistently hit one brick wall after another. No one seemed able to direct her to the proper authority or else she was told her letters hadn’t been received.
There’s still hope
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauryn Dempsey told the SouthtownStar that the Navy has an office dedicated to veterans’ awards, and it is “available to review Mr. Chrzanowski’s flight log, and if validated, award him the Air Medal.”
So Mosqueda had at least one more letter to write. She was working on it Thursday night, then heading to her father’s house.
“I want my dad to read it before I send it out,” she said.
The letter is going to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. She’s going to send copies to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), whose office she has been working with, and President Barack Obama.
“He is from Chicago. He is in campaign mode. He wants a vote. It can’t hurt,” she said.
The Air Medal was established by an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 11, 1942, according to the National Archives. It is to be awarded to any person in any U.S. military branch who, as of Sept. 8, 1939, “distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”
Until he searched the Internet, it hadn’t really crossed Chrzanowski’s mind that he might be owed an Air Medal. But now he believes he surpassed the minimum standards he found, with 682 of his hours being compiled on a “strike flight” basis, more than the 250 required in “direct combat support missions that do not encounter enemy opposition.”
But qualifying is one thing; the Navy being able to verify it is another.
That’s the part, Chrzanowski said, that is so frustrating.
“I’m ready to give up,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that much, but if you’re entitled to it, you should get it.”
The attempt to verify Chrzanowski’s record definitely is a family project.
“We scan copies of all his flight logs because that is part of the criteria,” Mosqueda said. “But since the initial paperwork by his commanding officer was never done, we’ve been backpedaling.”
Mosqueda continually sent out correspondence to various military departments, she said, but never could find an individual to whom to address it.
“They always say they never got it,” Mosqueda said.
“No one wants to claim responsibility for it,” said Chrzanowski’s wife, Casmira, 85.
For Chrzanowski’s 90th birthday party in June, his family and Craig Miller, of the Oak Forest Veterans Commission, secured an actual physical Air Medal to present him. Although Chrzanowski said he was overwhelmed with emotion, the medal sits away from his other commendations, which are on display in a shadow box.
“It doesn’t mean anything to him if it’s not on his record,” Mosqueda said.
With the help of Durbin’s office, Chrzanowski did secure some other medals that were missing from his record — including the Navy Good Conduct Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, an American Campaign Medal and an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal — but no Air Medal.
Mosqueda got a letter from Durbin’s office saying a review of his personnel record “failed to document he was ever recommended for or awarded the Air Medal.”
Mosqueda, however, said she will not stop in her quest to have her father’s service recognized.
“I haven’t lost complete hope. It’s just difficult navigating through the government,” she said.