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A Life Improved by World War II

12/30/2015

Victor Grondzki poses with his fiancé, Florence, before being shipped overseas as an infantry radio operator toward the end of World War II. Vic spent 22 months on foreign soil before the war ended and his life was changed for the better.

Seventy years ago, World War II was officially over, but its effects were still being felt across the globe. For some, the effects of their time during the Second World War have yet to completely die away. For one such soldier, the things he learned and the experiences he lived through helped to shape his entire outlook on life, strengthening his character and improving the world around him — a Marine by the name of Vic Grondzki.

Victor Grondzki grew up in Helmetta, NJ. After graduating from vocational-technical school, Vic joined the US military. His friends were joining the Army and Navy, but Vic wanted to be his own man — to be different — so he became a Marine. He was sent to Parris Island in South Carolina in early 1942, just after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Vic had learned to be machinist in school; he was very mechanically minded. The Marine Corps trained him to be an infantry radio operator. He trained with three separate companies to be the backup to the regular radio operator in case they were injured or killed on the battlefield. His job was to keep communication lines open between the 300 infantrymen and the lieutenant or captain in charge.

He was attached to the 2nd Marine Division in 1944 and took part in the Battle of Saipan in the Mariana Islands campaign (June–July 1944), the Battle of Tinian (July–August 1944), and the Battle of Okinawa (April 1945). Vic spent a total of 22 months overseas and was trained to eventually end up in Japan.

Vic says he doesn’t think he’d have lived through the war if President Truman hadn’t dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August of 1945 and ended the war. Being an infantry radio operator was a dangerous occupation. During the Battle of Saipan, a mortar hit the command post, killing his captain. Vic was within 50 yards of the blast and still retains shrapnel as a result of the blast.

Victor Grondzki takes a moment to hug one of his daughters on the day he was honored as the Grand Marshal of the Veteran’s Day parade in Live Oak, Florida, in 2014. Vic was a Marine, a machinist, and an antique airplane restorer.

The war ended, and Vic received a medical discharge in 1945. He went to work for E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) as a machinist. They immediately recognized his talents and sent him to California to oversee the design and construction of X-ray machinery. DuPont had been making X-ray film for years and decided they wanted to start producing the machines that used their film as well.

Vic did very well as an employee for DuPont. He credits this to his time in the Marines. Vic’s father had died when he was 10 years old and so Vic says the Marines became his father. “They made a man out of a boy,” Vic says. He worked hard to know more about his job than even his supervisors knew. When people had questions, they came to Vic. While in the Marines, a superior once asked him how he was doing and he replied, “Scared.” The officer replied, “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we go home.” Vic has followed this ideal the rest of his life.

But Vic’s life hasn’t been all about work. Before he entered the Marines, Vic became engaged to Florence, despite the protests of their friends and families. Vic’s future was uncertain as he entered the military. Many men were not returning home. But Vic did, and he and Florence were married and had three children: a boy and two girls. The couple was married 59 years before Florence’s death 12 years ago.

Vic’s son enlisted in the Navy and was a pilot. He was very interested in the German Bücker Jungmann, a tandem biplane the Nazis used for pilot training. Vic made an acquaintance with someone who had access to many, many grounded Jungmann. Long story short, Vic and his son ended up restoring several of these old planes. One fine specimen was flown to Lakeland, Florida, to the second-largest air show in the country (the Sun ‘n Fun) and was named Grand Champion that year.

What brought Vic to Florida was a trip to Wisconsin. After retiring, Vic and Florence bought a motor home and toured the United States and Canada. While attending the largest airshow in the US in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Vic happened upon a man selling land in an airpark in Live Oak, Florida: Kittyhawk Estates. Vic decided to check it out and liked it very much. He called his son (who was a couple years from retirement from the Navy) to come look at it and the two men bought adjacent property. Vic lived in Kittyhawk for 33 years. He and his son continued restoring Jungmanns and even built one from scratch to see if they could do it. But when their hobby became more like a job, Vic stopped.

Two years ago, when his years of activity began to take a toll on his body, he moved into Dacier Manor, Advent Christian Village’s assisted living option. That same year, Vic was honored in Live Oak as the Grand Marshal of the Veteran’s Day parade.

In Vic’s Dacier Manor room, he has a physical testament to his family’s commitment to this country and their patriotism. A desktop monument lists 10 men in Vic’s family who have or are serving in the US military — two in the Army: a brother and a brother-in-law; two in the Navy: Vic’s son and another brother-in-law; and six Marines: a third brother-in-law, four nephews (all brothers), and Vic himself. “In the dictionary,” says Vic, “a patriot is defined with five words: Loves his or her country.”

Vic loves this country, served it well as a Marine, and as a DuPont employee. And he is still a patriot. We thank him for it.

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