Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Leonard Joseph Kaczmarek

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.


Leonard Joseph Kaczmarek

Born: June 30, 1923

Died: March 22, 2013

Survivors: wife, Jane; daughter, Sandra Fuentes; son, Gary Kaczmarek; three grandchildren; one great-grandson.

Leonard Kaczmarek: Witnessed historic meeting of FDR, Churchill 04/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 8:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  2. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  3. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  4. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  5. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette


    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.