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Alsip man finally gets Air Medal for World War II service

Navy Capt. Scott Laedle(from left) looks as veteran Peter Chrzanowski presents his daughters Marie MosquedTrish Ledwwith flowers thank them for

Navy Capt. Scott Laedlein (from left) looks on as veteran Peter Chrzanowski presents his daughters Marie Mosqueda and Trish Ledwon with flowers to thank them for their persistence in getting his World War II medals. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2014 6:04AM



Peter Chrzanowski logged hundreds of hours of flight time during World War II, going on reconnaissance missions over the Pacific Ocean as a Navy airplane mechanic.

When the Alsip man went to Washington, D.C., in 2010 on an Honor Flight for World War II veterans, he called it “the highlight of his life so far,” according to his daughter, Marie Mosqueda.

“It was the highlight of my life, too,” said Mosqueda, who was Chrzanowski’s travel companion on that trip.

Now, that precious day has been topped. In an emotional ceremony attended by family and friends, Chrzanowski last week received the long overdue medals that he earned for all those flights some seven decades ago.

The medals not only were overlooked when Chrzanowski, 91, was discharged at the end of the war, but proved to be a real challenge to acquire after Chrzanowski and his two daughters — Mosqueda, 51, and Trish Ledwon, 55 — decided more than two years ago to go after them.

“I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ ” Mosqueda said. “He earned it.”

The long and frustrating process turned out to be worth the wait.

An Oct. 29 letter from the Department of the Navy stated that Chrzanowski had earned more than the Air Medal citation and certification and medal set with two silver and two gold stars that he felt he deserved. The research, documentation and validation showed Chrzanowski also had earned the “Distinguished Flying Cross Citation and Certification with medal set with two gold stars,” the letter read.

Chrzanowski was overwhelmed by it all.

“Tears in my eyes,” he said of his reaction to the presentation. “This is something I’ve been waiting for ... I know I earned it.”

At the awards ceremony at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 450 in Alsip, the room was packed with family and friends as Navy Capt. Scott Laedlein presented Chrzanowski with the medals.

Laedlein, the commanding officer at the Naval Operations Support Center at Naval Station Great Lakes, said Chrzanowski’s story was “a phenomenal story for me.

“I’m absolutely elated to award him the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross,” Laedlein said. “It is amazing what he has experienced. That never-give-up attitude that they got from their parents — that’s what won World War II. He was 22 at the time and he was fighting for the very lives we are living right now.”

That same “never-give-up attitude” kept the family going when they hit so many roadblocks trying to prove the medals were missing in action.

Chrzanowski said — with a grin — that he enlisted in 1942 at age 20 because he “didn’t want to do any hiking in the Army,” forgetting the dangerous possibility of falling into the Pacific while on reconnaissance flights.

He eventually clocked about 900 flight hours in 70 missions.

Although the fact he was missing medals for all those years was in the back of his mind, Mosqueda said it was really the Honor Flight that “triggered his research” on his own medals. He told Mosqueda, “ ‘You know, I never got that award, and I think I’m due,’ ” 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.”

Chrzanowski logged more than 900 flight hours. He knows 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.

But until he searched the Internet after the Honor Flight, it hadn’t really crossed Chrzanowski’s mind that he might be owed an Air Medal. But he found that 682 of his hours were compiled on a “strike flight” basis, more than the 250 required.

Next came a paperwork nightmare of determining whom to contact and asking for help, including from politicians.

While he waited, 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. And for Chrzanowski’s 90th birthday in 2012, his family and Craig Miller, of the Oak Forest Veterans Commission, secured an actual physical Air Medal to present to him — but the recognition was hollow at that time because his service was not on his record.

John Baggio, the husband of Chrzanowski’s great-niece, Donna Baggio, was happy to see Chrzanowski finally get his due. Baggio said the Honor Flights also have been important to veterans who “are finally being treated like the heroes they are.

“Most of these people (from the World War II era) are the salt of the earth,” Baggio said. “They never complained; they just worked.”



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