United States Army Veteran of WWII
As he looked down at his hands, Alex Kaszynski reminisced. Those hands carried Army gear during World War II, played a Hammond Electric Organ at the portable roller rink on the West end of Peru, dug ditches for the Peru Water Department and post holes for the Peru Electric Department, held the hands of his wife and carried his three children.
One of eight children, Kaszynski was born at St. Mary's Hospital in LaSalle and grew up in Peru. "I've been here all my life," he said, except for the three years he served in the war. Wearing his Purple Heart hat, Kaszynski recalled, "It wasn't easy. I was one of six brothers in World War II. They cleaned our house out."
After completing basic training in Texas, he returned to Peru for a brief 10-day furlough before being shipped out to the Pacific. "It was February 17th, 1945 at 10:30 am.," said Kaszynski of the day he suffered serious leg injuries caused by bomb shrapnel in Luzon, Philippines.
He was evacuated by airplane to the small island of Leyte to recuperate at an Army hospital. Kaszynski was unable to walk for nearly six months. Ones he recovered, he returned to his original unit and continued his service until he was discharged from the Army at the age of twenty-three. Kaszynski and all five of his brothers returned home safely from the war, fulfilling his fathers greatest wish.
"It took awhile to get adjusted back to civilian life," said Kaszynski. Upon returning home, he played a Hammond Electric Organ at the portable roller rink which was located at the West end of Peru. "I play by ear," he said. "I never read a note in my life, but I could sure play." When the roller rink moved to Michigan City, Indiana, Kaszynski went along and continued playing the organ for a summer. While the owner wanted him to stay, Kaszynski told him "I'm looking for my future."
As it would turn out, his future was back in Peru where he received a city job as a laborer, married his wife and together they raised their three children.
"I was hired through the water department and stayed there for quite a while," said Kaszynski. He explained the process for digging water line trenches was done using picks, shovels and bars. "At that time, there were no backhoes," he said. "It was all by hand."
Eventually, Kaszynski moved to the electric department and literally learned the trade from the ground up. "There were about four of us in the electric department. Three guys would be climbing the poles and I would be the guy tying on their material," Kaszynski said of the pulley system used to transfer tools and materials up and down the poles.
Like digging trenches for water lines, post holes were also dug using shovels and iron bars, fighting through dirt, rock and sometimes frost to reach the depth needed to set the pole. "It made a man out of me- three post holes was a day's work," said Kaszynski. "I learned the trade -you learned everything. After a while, we started putting spurs on and learned how to climb poles. We learned about electricity and how to respect high voltage."
He would ultimately pass that knowledge onto his son, Kye Kaszynski, who began working for the city during his summer vacation from high school. "I would teach him the trade little by little," said Kaszynski. "I've seen a lot of people come ad go, but him and I stuck it out. Kye is in charge of everything now at the electric department."
Kaszynski recalled the electrical advancements he's witnessed over the years, from digging post holes by hand to the introduction of the city's first bucket truck to the opening of the Hydro Electric Plant at Starved Rock Dam. "Nothing stays the same," he said.
Retired since 1987, Kaszynski relishes in the many years he was able to enjoy with his wife who passed away in 2016. And these days, he is happiest spending time with his children, grandchildren and his cat, Lucky. Once in a while, he even breaks out the tonette flue, harmonica or button accordion to play some of his favorite polka music.
As for the electric department, Kaszynski continues to observe and discuss progress with his son, Kye, who is now the general foreman "I'm outdated," he said. "but I left them in good hands."
--Used with permission from the City of Peru & Veteran, "Peru Pride Magazine"
August 2018, Pg. 6--