Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

Leonard Kaczmarek: Witnessed historic meeting of FDR, Churchill

TAMPA — In January 2012, an 88-year-old man decided it was time to write his memoirs.

He would be sure to note his presence as a seaman aboard the USS Augusta in 1941, when Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a top-secret meeting, their first face-to-face encounter. The meeting resulted in the Atlantic Charter; a historic agreement between England, which was fighting Germany in World War II, and the United States, whose help Churchill sought.

He would mention standing 15 feet away when Roosevelt caught a large fish no one could identify, which the president directed be sent to the Smithsonian Institution.

Memories of My Life, by Leonard J. Kaczmarek, would begin with his birth in Milwaukee and cover each grade in school from kindergarten until he dropped out of high school to join the Navy. He used dictating software, going mostly in chronological order except when he had forgotten something. Mr. Kaczmarek sent several long emails to his son-in-law, who pasted them into a Word document. The last two-thirds of what he wrote concerned the war, after which the emails stopped.

Mr. Kaczmarek, a retired manager of the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee and later in Tampa, died March 22 at St. Joseph's Hospital, four months after suffering a fall. He was 89.

In recent years he walked a few blocks on weekdays morning to the home of Tampa lawyer Larry Fuentes, his son-in-law, arriving by 7:15 a.m. for black coffee and conversation.

"His mind was as good as it was 20 years ago," said Fuentes, 64.

Mr. Kaczmarek's stories contain plenty of numbers and some emotion. He remembered, for example, the dimensions of the basement of his childhood home (15 by 18 feet) and the dining room (15 by 12) and his exact salary in the Navy.

Mr. Kaczmarek was born at home in 1923 to Polish immigrants. His father, a steelworker who worked double shifts, died of pneumonia when Mr. Kaczmarek was 8.

The best years of his life, he said, were in junior high school, where he spent hours during and after school playing sports. "My best sport was tumbling," he writes. "This is where you could walk on your hands, walk on your hands up and down stairways, dive off a springboard and do complete flips onto a gym mat."

At age 17 he talked to a Navy recruiter. "That recruiting officer — now get this — said I would get free lifetime medical hospitalization and dental care for the rest of my life if I joined the Navy," he wrote.

While he later judged that claim "a lot of B.S. — I now go to the VA hospital and co-pay on everything" — Mr. Kaczmarek's memoirs recount many experiences in the Navy he seemed to enjoy.

After the war, Mr. Kaczmarek worked as a bottling and canning manager at the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. in Milwaukee. He married Jane, who shared his Polish descent. The company sent him to Tampa before Schlitz was bought by the Stroh Brewery Co.

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