New Castle News

June 14, 2013

One of county’s oldest veterans still on a mission

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Life’s been a fascinating ride for Theodore “Ted” Adamczyk, one of Lawrence County’s most decorated World War II veterans.

In dire circumstances, where death was often in the air, Adamczyk responded with a confidence and calmness that inspired those around him.

At age 93, the former Army Air corpsman continues to display those characteristics today along with a wry sense of humor.

A self-taught musician who performed live on New Castle’s first radio station in 1938, Adamczyk proved a few years later that he was as good at handling a machine gun in a B-17 Bomber as he was a fiddle.

The military credits Adamczyk with 195 official missions, mostly troop support, but he said there were many more.

Recipient of several medals, including the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross, Adamczyk decided to leave a record for family so he wrote his memoirs, titled “The Way It Was,” to detail his exploits and provide answers to any questions they might have.



OFF TO WAR

Four weeks after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Adamczyk departed for the Far East, flying on a B-17 with seven others to Brazil, across the Atlantic to Sierra Leone, Africa; across the Sahara Desert; up the Nile Valley to Cairo; across Arabia to Bangalore, India; and on to the East Indies Island of Java, where HE joined others on an aircraft in an attempt to stop the Japanese advance to Australia.

On Feb. 3, 1942, Adamczyk and company set out on their third mission, confronting a fleet of enemy warships off Borneo. After dropping four, 600-pound bombs on freighters 25,000 feet below, the six U.S. planes turned for home. But soon they were engaged by a single Japanese warplane.

Operating the waist guns, Adamczyk exchanged fire with a daring pilot, who was in full attack mode despite being vastly outnumbered.

“I’d love to say we blew him out of the sky,” Adamczyk said. “We may have hit him, but he seemed to be in control even as his aircraft spiraled downward and disappeared.”

Years later, Adamczyk read a book titled “Zero,” written by Japan’s legendary flying ace Saburo Sakai, who described how he single-handedly attacked six American B-17s in the Southwest Pacific.

“It must have been him,” Adamczyk said of the aerial battle.



BAILING OUT

Shortly after that encounter 71 years ago, the six U.S. planes descended to a lower altitude. “I had a feeling of euphoria,” Adamczyk said. “We’d been in mortal combat and survived.”

However, moments later he noticed flames near the oil tank, realizing the plane had been damaged during the battle.

“We were over a small island with a long over-water flight ahead and the probability of the fire spreading,” Adamczyk said. “Our pilot decided we’d better get out.”

So Adamczyk helped release the emergency door at the rear of the aircraft and jumped — after a brief hesitation — when (Lt. Longacre) ordered him to bail out. “I grabbed the ripcord of my backpack parachute,” he said. “I wanted to be sure I could find it.”

He also loosened the fleece-lined flying boots he was wearing, anticipating the possibility of landing in the ocean.

Adamczyk said jumpers are supposed to count to a predetermined number upon bailing out, but he must have pulled the cord too quickly. When the chute opened, Adamczyk felt a jolt and a terrible pain in his left knee. His boots also went flying on their own uncharted course.

“My knee was dislocated,” he said. “But I was able to push it into place while descending.

“I might have enjoyed the ride down had my leg not been hurting so badly,” he recalled. “The sudden quiet after that noisy plane was quite a contrast and the landscape below was beautiful — blue water, sandy beach and green jungle.”

Adamczyk floated down like a feather... until he landed in about six inches of water right off the sandy beach on the east side of the island. Even though the water and sand were soft, Adamczyk landed with a thud. “I knew I was out of commission,” he said.  Adamczyk was still holding the ripcord as he lay there. Using his elbows, he dragged himself onto land, coming to rest against a coconut tree.

Other members of the crew landed in different spots on the tiny island, so the injured Adamczyk had to wait until they located him. A Navy PBY flying boat came to their rescue the next day.

Adamczyk was transported and treated in an Australian hospital that was bombed during his stay.



BEFORE THE WAR

Originally from Sharpsville, Adamczyk attended a one-room schoolhouse for a few years before the family moved to South New Castle Borough. He attended New Castle schools through 11th grade. Residents of South New Castle were assigned to Shenango schools the following year, and Adamczyk graduated from high school there, playing on the Wildcats’ football team in the fall of 1938.

He began playing the harmonica at age 6, and that evolved into violin lessons. He developed a love for country music and listened to the Grand Ole Opry on radio every Saturday night. He bought a used fiddle for $5 and began to imitate what he heard on the radio.

He formed a band with two neighborhood boys and soon they were playing parties and square dances around the area. In 1938, WKST went on the air from the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

“They held tryouts and we won,” Adamczyk said.

After joining with a country singer from Wheeling, W.Va., they became known as Sis Simpson and the Rhythm Ramblers, playing five days a week on the local station. He gave that up to join the Army, but he remains a lover of blue grass music and still plays at various festivals.



BACK HOME

After the war, Adamczyk remained in the service through 1947. He returned to Lawrence County and worked at Johnson Bronze for a few years before re-inlisting. “I just liked the Army life,” he explained.

A decade later he was was recalled to active duty as a member of the Air Force reserves. He lived in many exotic places, including Okinawa Island, Guam and Japan.

On Aug. 31, 1967, after more than 22-plus years, he retired from the military. Once again, he returned to Lawrence County.

“We finished (building) our home in Scott Township and I went to work for the postal service,” said Adamczyk, who started in the New Castle office and later transferred to Slippery Rock, where he became the assistant post master.

He and first wife, Dorothy had six children. Dorothy, died in an automobile accident in 1981.

Adamczyk lives on Eastbrook-Harlansburg Road now with his second wife, Suzie. Adamczyk and Susie have been married for 28 years. Susie, who was born in Germany, was a nurse for her native land during World War II.

“I married the enemy,” Adamczyk says with a wink and a smile. “But it’s workin’ out pretty well.”

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)