It’s always a treat to see people making connections. One of those gratifying link-ups involved a World War II veteran I wrote about last year.
Picture this: A submariner from Bethlehem participates in a dangerous mission against the Japanese. Sixty-seven years later, the Navy commissions a new ship and names it after the mission. A woman from Allentown has a leadership position aboard the ship. A year later, when she retires from the Navy, she has the old sailor from the Lehigh Valley as her guest at the ceremony.
The submariner is Hank Kudzik, now 86 and living in Allen Township. He served aboard the USS Nautilus in the Battle of Midway and on the August 1942 raid against Japanese-held Makin Island in the Pacific’s Gilbert Islands.
In October 2009, Kudzik was an honored guest at the commissioning of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in San Diego. He was the only Nautilus crewman present, but he was joined by six Marine veterans who were on the Makin Island raid under Lt. Col. Evans Carlson. (In 1943, Hollywood made a movie about the raid, “Gung Ho!” starring Randolph Scott.) Kudzik met Linda Handley, an enlisted officer on the Makin Island.
Soon after the commissioning, I got a call from Hank’s daughter Renae Behrens, who told me about her dad’s service and his trip to San Diego. I got in touch with Hank and started interviewing him at his home. I hadn’t done a submariner’s story since 1999, when I wrote about Robert Holden of Whitehall Township, who served on the USS Finback, which rescued future President George H.W. Bush when his Avenger torpedo bomber was shot down. http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-robertholden,0,2164204.story
My story on Hank ran in April 2010 to mark the 110th anniversary of the submarine force. Here’s the link: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-5kudzik.7185625apr05,0,7508994.story
Linda, the command master chief of the USS Makin Island, was a 1975 graduate of Allen High School and her parents live in Lehigh Township. One day she came to visit Hank and invited him to her retirement ceremony. He gladly accepted. The event was held on board the ship Dec. 2 in San Diego. A short item I wrote about it appeared in The Morning Call last Friday, with a photo of Linda.
It was Hank’s second visit to the ship named after the fiery mission he had participated in.
“They’re getting to know me out there,” he said last week. “They treat me pretty good.”
Hank will be the speaker at the next meeting of the Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project Roundtable. That’s at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Lehigh County Senior Center, 1633 Elm St., Allentown. For more info: http://www.lvveteranshistory.org/