The Los Angeles Times profiles Pearl Harbor veteran Jack Ray Hammett, who was on board the Nevada that day.
As the Greatest Generation dwindles in numbers, we tend to pass by December 7 in a way we never did in years past. My wife’s uncle, Joe Taussig, was an ensign on the Nevada that morning, and lost his leg getting the battleship underway. While Joe was alive, we never failed to talk about the surprise attack on America, but Joe died in 1999, and with him and our parents went the immediate connection to a day that lives in infamy, but not enough in memory.
A few years before my dad died I accompanied him to the Arizona Memorial, as he wanted to pay his respects to an Ashtabula High School graduate he had known, USMC Pvt. Henry Kalinowski, one of the first casualties of the war. Here is a biography of Henry Kalinowski:
On the day Henry Kalinowski left for the Marines, he bought a big bag of candy for his eight-year-old sister, Josephine. Then kissed her and said, “I’ll see you later, kiddo.”
It was the last time Josephine saw her brother. Less than nine months later, their father received the War Department telegraph dreaded by every parent of a serviceman. “We regret to inform you…”
Henry Kalinowski was one of 109 Marines killed at Pearl Harbor December 7th, 1941. Assigned to the USS Arizona as an honor guard, Kalinowski is among the 1,102 servicemen entombed on the ship, which was sunk by the Japanese during the attack.
Records kept at the Arizona memorial do not list casualties by city. However, examining newspapers of the time show that at least two Ashtabula County servicemen were killed in the attack: Kalinowski and Frank William Strief Jr., first class petty officer aboard the USS Shaw, a destroyer.
A lifetime resident of Ashtabula, Stief attended Harbor High School and left for the Navy in 1937. He was first reported as officially missing in action just a couple of days before Christmas 1941.
But first word of Kalinowski’s disappearance in the attack arrived in Ashtabula December 17th, making him the area’s first World War II casualty. His death was later confirmed to the family in a letter dated January 29, 1942, from T.Holcomb, Lieutenant General of the Marine Corps Reserves.
“There is little I can say to lessen your grief, but it is my earnest hope that the knowledge of your son’s splendid record in the service, and the thought that he nobly gave his life in the performance of his duty, may in some measure comfort you in this sad hour,” wrote Holcomb.
Kalinowski was born May 13,1920, in Denmark Township to Adam and Antoinia Kalinowski. The couple were Polish immigrants who had come to Ashtabula County to farm. But there wasn’t enough land or bounty to support them and their eight children. Ken Kalinowski, Adam’s nephew, recalls the family as being so poor that some of the children, including Henry, had to move in with his family during the Depression.
“I thought he was my brother, he lived with us for a while,” said Ken Kalinowski, who lives in Florida. “I was so small at the time, I just considered him to be my big brother.”
Josephine Kalinowski Costello, who lives in Eastlake, said the bank repossessed her parents’ farm during the Depression and the family moved to Hamlin Drive in Ashtabula. Her father got a maintenance job at J.C.Penney, but it was a tough road for a family of 10.
Nevertheless, Ken recalls Henry as a happy-go-lucky youth who was friendly and cheerful. “He was always telling jokes and teasing me,” Ken said. “He was a very happy person…his poverty didn’t seem to bother him. He was always real cheerful.” “He liked to tease,” Josephine said. “His little sister always got teased.” Dale Kalinowski, Ken’s brother, said Henry saved him serious injury, possibly death, when he was but 2 or 3. Henry and he were riding in his grandfather’s car when Dale took a tumble out the door. Henry grabbed him just in time, and gave the lad his first image of Henry as a hero.
Henry attended West Junior High School and graduated from Ashtabula High June 2, 1938. Among the few documents of his life, now in Josephine’s possession, is an “A for Service” certificate from Ashtabula High School. The certificate was for Henry’s service to the school’s football manager. Other surviving documents of his childhood include a baptism record from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jefferson, and a beginning swimming test certificate from the YMCA.
Josephine said her brother was intelligent and wanted to go to college, but there was no money. She recalls him as an excellent artist. “He could just look at a person and draw them,” she said. “He was very good that way…what a waste that he had to go.”
Henry got a job with the WPA and developed a reputation for being one of the city’s best young bowlers. But high bowling scores and a government relief job didn’t offer much of a future for a young man. After his mother’s death, Henry decided to leave Ashtabula and find a new life in the Marines. “He went in because he wanted to better himself,” Josephine said. “He thought the Marines was the best, he’d get a good education there and he’d come out a man, a professional.”
Henry entered the Marine Corps Reserves March 22,1941. He trained in San Diego, California, during which time he and other men of the 24th Platoon appeared in a feature film. Ken recalls seeing the film at the Ames Theater in Jefferson about a year after Pearl Harbor. He said Henry was in two scenes: at the beginning of the film, where a column of Marines marches into the camera, and a caf scene where Henry appears in the background.
The name of the motion picture and its stars have been forgotten by all the family members.
Henry was assigned to the USS Arizona June 25,1941. He never returned to Ashtabula for a visit.
Josephine said she heard that Henry was not supposed to be aboard the Arizona the day of the attack. “I heard that his buddy had asked him to take his place so he could go ashore to get married.” Josephine said. “He did it- permanently.”
Dale remembers the day his father learned that Henry was missing in action. ” Dad took (Henry’s) picture in the bathroom and cried,” Dale said.
Adam Kalinowski cried, too, when he heard his son was a victim of the attack. “After that happened, my Dad wasn’t to well,” Josephine said. “He worked, but he wasn’t well. It was really hard on him.” Adam Kalinowski died in 1959.
Henry’s sacrifice was noted in the newspapers and he spoke posthumously for the sale of war bonds in the months to come. Dale recalls seeing his uncle’s picture displayed in the Carlisle-Allen store window along with a poster urging citizens to support the cause with their wallets, just as Henry Kalinowski had done with his life.
But the steady stream of death reports from the Pacific, North Africa and Europe soon overshadowed Henry and Frank’s sacrifices at Pearl Harbor. Several years after the close of the war, the family received the four medals Henry had earned by his sacrifice: the Purple Heart, American Defense Service, World War II Victory and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign. Now in the possession of Josephine’s sons, they connect them to the great uncle they never knew.
Those who new Henry- Josephine, Dale, and Ken- say he has been neglected by local history. Jim Scott agrees. Scott is the adjunct paymaster of the Marine Corps League Detachment 782 (Ashtabula County). Scott said the members are working to rename their Detachment in Henry Kalinowski’s honor. The process has been hampered by delays in obtaining Henry’s service records, but Scott is optimistic the group will soon be known as the Henry Kalinowski Detachment No.782.
” I just think he’s been overlooked all these years,” Dale said. “He should at least be recognized and let the people know he was the first person from Ashtabula listed as missing in action. After all, he did give his life for all of us.”