Born: March 9, 1924
Service Branch: United States Army (Airborne, Air Corps, Infantry, Paratrooper)
George served in World War II as a paratrooper with 464th Field Artillery Battalion of the elite 17th Airborne Division. In March 1945, he jumped behind enemy lines crossing the Rhine River in Wesel, Germany, during Operation Varsity, the largest allied airborne assault in military history to be conducted on a single day, and in one location. Operation Varsity which occurred near the end of World War II, involved more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft. Nearly all military objectives were met, yet allied troops incurred more than 2,000 casualties, but captured approximately 3,000 German soldiers.
It was on March 9, 1943, when 19-year-old George Zlotnick raised his right hand in Willimantic, Connecticut, and enlisted in the United States Army. Beginning his military career as an infantryman, George soon after joined the Army Air Corps, which years later became the United States Air Force. George’s dream was to always fly, so he began flight training and was well on his way to earning his wings. When the war took a drastic change and the American troops began to suffer mounting loss of life on the ground, the U.S. government called for any troops who had previous ground training, to transfer back into the infantry. George agreed, joining the 39th Infantry Division in Georgia, but this lasted for only two weeks.
A poster advertising a bit of extra pay to jump from airplanes drew George’s attention one day. He thought this might be the closest he would ever get to fulfilling his dream of flying.
“I figured if I was going to Germany, I would rather fly in, rather than walk in, even if flying meant jumping from a plane,” George recalled, every military and war detail still so fresh in his mind.
George was subsequently sent to Pre-Flight Training at Teacher’s College in Pennsylvania. Three hundred men took the exam. Names were called alphabetically, so George waited for 299 names to be called until finally the letter ‘Z’ finally arrived. When it finally did, the sergeant informed George he had received the highest score.
“He told me I either knew a whole lot, or else I was a pretty good guesser,” George chuckled. “I’d like to think I knew a lot.”
Once this training was completed, George was sent to Germany where on March 24, 1945, he participated in the largest airborne assault in military history. Operation Varsity was kept very quiet, so quiet in fact few reporters were granted any information until years later. To this day, few outside military service are familiar with Operation Varsity, however it carried great significance in the outcome of the war, and the defeat of Germany and Adolph Hitler.
“Grandpa cannot recite much of what he saw without immediately breaking down in tears,” said Peter Zlotnick, 28, George’s oldest grandson. “What he will tell you, and quite proudly, was about the time he carried the barrel of a cannon weighing more than 200 pounds over his shoulder through enemy fire, and how he sprinted with it to safety because he knew that his troops needed it to complete the assembly of the cannon in order to fight back. He vividly remembers the sound of bullets cracking through the air as they whizzed by …”
George is very proud of his military history, and his service to the United States. He is a true American patriot. Although World War II ended in May, 1945, George was not discharged until February, 1946. He served his country for 35 months.
Service Branch: United States Air Force (USAF) (Medical Service Officers Corps, Major)
Chester Andrzejewski, Jr. joined the United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR) via the Air Force’s Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) just after being accepted into the Tufts University School of Medicine (Boston, MA) in May 1980. Prior to his commissioning as a Second Lieutenant at that time, he was engaged in Ph.D. doctoral studies at Tufts University in their Program in Immunology which he successfully completed in 1981. During his medical school years he served in a reserve officer status with occasional temporary active duty (TDY) military assignments and in medical student clerkships at USAF hospitals at bases in Alabama, Texas and New Hampshire.
After graduating from Tufts in 1984 and being deferred from military residency training, Dr. Chet entered post-graduate training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) in Philadelphia, PA in their Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Residency Program followed by training in the Blood Banking/Transfusion Medicine Fellowship Program at UPENN. After completion of his studies he entered extended active duty into the USAF Medical Service Officers Corps with the rank of Captain in 1988 being assigned to Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), TX, (Air Training Command, ATC). At that time Wilford Hall Medical Center (WHMC) was the largest USAF hospital serving military personnel and their families from around the world as well as having a variety of physician residency training, teaching, and research programs for USAF personnel.
Initially assigned as a Staff Pathologist with duties in the Blood Bank as its Assistant Medical Director, he assumed the Medical Directorship of the Blood Bank/Transfusion Medicine Services at WHMC and the Lackland Air Force Base Blood Donor Center several months after entry onto active duty status. While in this capacity Dr. Chet, during his tenure at WHMC worked with other clinical colleagues in developing and implementing the first orthotopic liver transplant program in the Department of Defense (DOD), conducted various research studies in the areas of autoimmune diseases and HIV, and helped coordinate and enhance various clinical programs including the incorporation of an Apheresis Medicine Service into the Department of Pathology.
Although Dr. Chet entered active duty during peacetime several significant and unanticipated military interventions occurred during his time at WHMC. One such unanticipated occurrence was the United States invasion of Panama, codenamed Operation Just Cause which occurred between mid-December 1989 and late January 1990. Some of the causalities from that conflict were air evacuated to San Antonio area Army and Air Force hospitals, including WHMC, for medical treatment and management.
One WHMC outcome from this military operation was an identified need to have a select group of medical, nursing and biomedical officer support staff that could be called upon at a moment’s notice to augment world-wide U.S. military operations. Assembly of such a “Mobility Team” along with specified training and pre-positioning of required gear for its members’ use resulted and Chet was “invited” to be part of this endeavor. After completing the prerequisite training, members placed on “mobility status” would have their “bags packed and ready to go” potentially directly from their offices at the hospital to wherever and whenever the need arose.
Needless to say this uncertainty affected not just the military member but their families as well. After successfully completing his required training, including side-arms certification, and being officially placed on “Mobility Status”, Dr. Chet remembers naively telling his pregnant wife, Kathy, “ not to worry, the world is at peace; we only have about two years of my active duty commitment left, and besides what could possibly happen in that timeframe.” Two days later Iraq invaded Kuwait.
With this unexpected turn of world events, the trajectories for Dr. Chet and his family during his remaining time on active duty were about to change. Within hours after the invasion both diplomatic efforts and military planning to peacefully end the incursion were underway; some obvious, some not so obvious. On August 7, 1990 Operation Desert Shield was formally inaugurated. Most visibly were the movements of various air-wings to Saudi Arabia and naval assets to the Persian Gulf region. Due to the importance of blood transfusions, however, in the surgical support of potential casualties in any military interventions, special steps were taken early on to prepare for a variety of contingencies.
Given his position at the time, Dr. Chet became involved with classified operations regarding miliary and civilian blood related establishments including potential impacts affecting his own hospital’s blood bank and blood donor center. He remembers frequent meetings periodically occurring over the next several months, the tempos of which quickened and the depths of discussions deepened especially as the autumn months unfolded. Discussions regarding potential deployments of the “Mobility Teams” circulated amongst the hospital staff throughout this time and up to the conclusion of this phase of the action in mid-January 1991. Despite efforts at a peaceful solution and after the assembly of a multi-national coalition to oust Saddam Hussain’s forces from Kuwait, on January 2, 1991, the United States Congress granted President George H.W. Bush the authority to wage war to end Iraqi’s occupation of Kuwait. It was a war that would ultimately extend to June 6, 1991, with this new combat phase of the military engagement termed Operation Desert Storm beginning on January 16-17, 1991.
Within a week the “Movement Orders” were issued and the various mobility teams alerted for impending deployments. In the days prior, meetings of affected staff were held including sessions for those wishing to draft and/or update their wills and to engage with members of the military chaplaincy. Several false starts for the teams’ deployments occurred as necessary aircraft were diverted into the various theaters of operations to ferry various war assets into the Gulf region. Dr. Chet recalls that the exact locations that the WHMC mobility teams were to be deployed were unknown by the individuals on the team prior to their departures. Even as he boarded a Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) aircraft at Kelly Field in San Antonio, TX on a mid-January 1991 night he had no idea where this plane would land but remembers contemplating the beautiful sunset and asking God for help for himself, his family, and his colleagues.
The plane eventually landed at a Royal Air Force (RAF) base in the United Kingdom (UK).Dr. Chet’s unit was moved to and billeted at RAF Fairford. Due to this base’s location and infrastructure (RAF Fairford was the only TransOceanic Abort Landing site for NASA's Space Shuttle in the UK due to its long runway) the airfield was designated as a forward operating location for the US Air Force and
during Desert Storm it served as the active flight line for B-52s and KC-135 Stratotankers on their missions to the Gulf.
The hospital that the medical teams would work at, however, was at yet another RAF base located several miles away. Here Dr. Chet served as the Medical Director of the Transfusion Medicine Service of the 870th USAF Contingency Hospital, RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire, England. This was a “turnkey” facility prepared for a possible war in Europe and was the largest contingency hospital deployed during the war. The expectation was that casualties from the Gulf Theater of Operations would be air evacuated here for care before discharge back to the Gulf or onto the continental US (CONUS) for higher echelons of care as needed by the wounded.
He remembers working with US Air Force personnel from bases all around the world who provided their expertise in preparing the hospital for casualty reception and care. Thankfully only a minimum number of casualties needed to be admitted due to the success of the combat air operations that preceded the ground phase of the war and the rapid deescalation and cessation of hostilities.
After the return of his mobility team to WHMC, Dr. Chet participated in several post-war “After-Action Reports” including one he presented to USAF Medical leadership in Washington D.C. as well as an invited participant in a tri-service medical scenario planning exercise in support of future military actions.
When asked to comment on his thoughts regarding his military service, Dr. Chet indicated he would likely not change his decision to enter into the USAF. He expressed gratitude for the opportunities afforded to him early in his career and, in a small way, his ability to offer service to our country. “I met and worked with a great number of people from all walks of life and was given a variety of responsibilities not typically offered to physicians in the early stages of their careers. I learned a lot from my interactions with colleagues and the patients I had the privilege of caring for, some of whom came from places far distant from San Antonio, TX.”
He acknowledged, however, that “life in the military can very demanding, especially on families”. He indicated that it can be dangerous, not just in times of war, but in peacetime as well. “Being in military service, especially with the potential for unanticipated deployments can be very difficult for families. Along with my faith, my wife, Kathy, was a major support to me and our family during my deployment. I learned only later after my return, just how stressful it was for her with our young growing family.”
Kathleen (O’Connor) Andrzejewski, who met Chet while both were undergraduate students at Brown University in Rhode Island, could not have agreed more. “There were many long and lonely nights,” she recalls. “Many sleepless nights too. It was not only difficult for me, but for our small children as well. My prayer life is what sustained me during Chet’s deployment.”
Dr. Chet Andrzejewski separated with the rank of Major from extended active duty in 1992 and was honorably discharged from the USAFR in 2000. Since his active duty separation Dr. Chet has served as the Medical Director of System Blood Banking and Transfusion/Apheresis Medicine Services at Baystate Health in Springfield, MA.
Born: September 11, 1936
Deceased: February 9, 2019
Service Branch: US Army (Adjutant Corps)
Mr Thomas Shakun served with the Adjutant Corps of the United States Army during the Korean War. He was a Russian language translator for 33 months and was stationed near Frankfurt, Germany. His duties also included being director of all office staff communication. Teletype, telephone, and radio were the means of communication at that time.
During his time stateside, Mr Shakun trained with the Corps of Engineers at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, home to the United States Army Chemical Engineers & Military Police. His regiment was called to rotational duty in 1954 to Korea. Everyone, except Mr Shakun, was sent to Korea; he, meanwhile, was bound for Germany.
“There was not another G.I. on the train travelling to Germany, so I have to admit, that was pretty frightening,” Mr Shakun recalled. “Everyone who I had spent service time with to that point, were gone. I felt completely alone … I was completely alone.”
Mr Shakun interpreted mostly for Latvians, as he recalled there was genocide being carried out in Latvia during that period. He remembers the Latvians soldiers begging the military not to send them home for fear of reprisal. There was no immigration to the United States through the Korean War, and not again until the late 1950’s.
“I enjoyed serving in the Armed Forces,” Mr Shakun said. “I was actually taken very good care of. Although I did not want to leave, and considered staying, I did not reenlist, either, although many thought that I would.”
Tom recalls with fondness, too, the trips to France every three months in order to clear his head. His monthly military pay was $160 a month. Because he played competitive tennis against other units, he would be paid an additional $12 a day for meals.
Upon his return to the United States, Tom purchased a 1952 Mercury convertible with $1,200 from his military savings account. He also enrolled for classes at the University of Connecticut, before graduating with a degree from Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut.
The Holy Trinity community salutes Mr Thomas Shakun and thanks him for his military duty in the United States Armed Forces.
Born: December 2, 1920
Deceased: May 10, 2018
Service Branch: United States Navy
In the 1940s, Helen, a Willington native, thought about what she would like to do following graduation from high school, and decided to become a nurse. She applied for a special nursing program, available both in Boston and New York, and subsequently chose Kings County Hospital for her education. As a Cadet Nurse, supervised and paid by the government, she lived and studied in New York from 1942 to 1945. Then, when the Korean War ended, she returned to Connecticut to work as a nurse at the University of Connecticut.
When the Korean War broke out from 1952-56, Helen went into the Navy, with the permission of UConn and the understanding that she would return to her work there when it was possible. She came in to the military as a Lieutenant JG, and after several years was promoted to full Lieutenant. In 1956, informed by a letter from the government that “you are part of the Navy,” she was appointed Lieutenant of the Nurse Corps of the Reserve of the United States Navy, and eventually earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Her years of service alternated with periods of return to UConn.
During her tenure with the military, she served in St. Albans, New York; Bethesda, Maryland; the sub base in New London; and at Guantanamo in Cuba. Her responsibilities included treating returning veterans severely distressed after battle; she found she had a deep calm that enabled her to quiet down difficult patients who seemed threatening to others—a new awareness that she would not have wanted to miss. She also worked with those who had orthopedic and surgical needs, and with dependent family members of servicemen.
In 1966, after marriage, she returned to Connecticut and her career at UConn.
In reflecting on her years and relationships in the military, Helen remembers the experience as being like a family. “We were well-housed, and someone was always there if you needed a shoulder to lean on.”
Among people ranging in age from the 20s to the 60s, she made many new friends, was treated with respect by the other officers, and was never lonesome. In her time off, she traveled in Europe or visited relatives in Connecticut. She is saddened when she thinks about so many colleagues who have passed on, but has vivid memories of the lives and events they shared at a historic time.
Photo of Helen, in her dress uniform as a Cadet Nurse. Photo sometime between 1942-1945.
Born: April 18, 1926
Deceased: June 18, 2015
Service Branch: United States Navy
Nick served mostly in the Philippines from 1943-1945. He achieved the rank of Seaman First Class; his entire tour of duty was land-based. Nick operated a warehouse supply depot where he was responsible for receiving, stocking, and dispersing welding equipment.
Nick enlisted soon after war was declared. His motive was to serve his country, and to see the world, yet he admitted he did not get very far, just to the Philippines. Upon entry to the Navy, Nick attended Boot Camp in Newport, RI, then spent brief periods in Staten Island, NY, and San Bruno, CA, prior to his deployment to the Philippines.
“I enjoyed my time of military service,” Nick admitted. “I count my blessings that I was not forced into actual combat where I was asked to shoot someone. I did see a service man burn to death when a diesel engine blew up as he was servicing it. I will never forgot that.”
Nor will he forget receiving word in May, 1945, reporting Germany had surrendered and World War II was over.
“It was about nine o’clock in the evening,” Nick recalled. “A fellow came over and told me, ‘the war is over … the war is over.’ I can still remember everyone jumping up and down, shouting ‘the war is over.’ It was a great day.”
Born: April 15, 1941
Deceased: May 24, 2015
Service Branch: United States Navy
Dreams die hard. Joe Hutnik spent his youth imagining he would one day be a pilot. At age 23, and in 1964, Joe’s journey began. He enlisted in the Navy, and began his military career in Pensacola, FL, Corpus Christi, TX, and San Diego (CA).
After his training was completed, Joe served two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1967-1969. His flights departed from and landed at an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Gulf of Tonkin is a body of water located off the coast of northern Vietnam and southern China. It is a northern arm of the South China Sea.
On 4 August 1964, United States President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed that North Vietnamese forces had twice attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Known today as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, this event spawned the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 7, 1964, ultimately leading to open war between North Vietnam and the United States. Furthermore, it foreshadowed the major escalation of the Vietnam War in South Vietnam, which began with the landing of US regular combat troops at Da Nang in 1965.
After briefly leaving the Navy in 1969, Joe flew for United Airlines before re-joining in the Navy a little over a year later (1971). Joe agreed to transition from fixed wing airplanes into helicopters for a shore duty assignment at the Naval Air Station Oceania in Virginia Beach, VA where he performed search and rescue duties. He went back to fixed wing aircraft when ordered to the USS America from 1973-1975 in Norfolk, VA.
From 1975 until leaving active military service in 1978, Joe worked at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, where he was program manager for a highly classified United States Navy weapons security program.
Joe left the Navy a second time and went back to United Airlines when United recalled its pilots furloughed 7 years earlier. He had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Joe summed up over 12 years of military service, specifically carrier operations, as “exciting, thrilling and, oh yes, sometimes dangerous.”