Before he died in 2004 at age 88, Anthony “Tony” Czarnecki told his family to bury his remains at the site of the greatest tragedy of his life.
His family traveled to Hawaii a few months later and watched as Navy divers placed an urn with his remains inside the sunken remains of the U.S.S. Arizona. Mr. Czarnecki’s brother Stanley was killed aboard the battleship in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Tony Czarnecki was also assigned to the Arizona, but he was on liberty with his wife at their apartment in Honolulu on that awful Sunday morning. He tried to return to the ship as soon as he heard the news, but there was nothing he could do to save his brother and 1,176 other shipmates. Torpedoes hit the Arizona’s forward magazines and the ship exploded and sank. In the aftermath, Tony Czarnecki climbed on a small boat and helped pick up bodies and survivors.
He served in the Pacific until 1945, then returned home to Jackson, Michigan, and became a mailman.
After his burial on the Arizona, one of his sons, David, said, “He’s at peace right now, I think. He’s back on board.”
The brothers were among six children born to Martin and Veronica Czarnecki. Martin immigrated from Poland in 1903. He was a laborer at a stone quarry and later an employee at an auto parts factory. The mother’s grave marker spells her name as Veronica, but earlier records identify her as Varonaca and then Varonica. She was a homemaker and also a housekeeper for others.
Tony, the eldest, was born Feb. 7, 1915. He enlisted in the Navy at age 20 and was a machinist’s mate and petty officer first class at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stanley was born Oct. 1, 1918 and followed his big brother into the Navy in December 1939. He was a fireman first class when he was killed. His body was not recovered.
A third brother, Henry, was a private first class in the 337th Infantry, 85th Division, when he was killed in Italy in April 1945. He is buried there at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial.
Both Stanley and Henry’s names are engraved on their parents’ grave markers at St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Jackson.
A fourth brother, Clarence, was 17 when he enlisted in the Navy in May 1942. He served until July 1945.
Sources: the Jackson (Michigan) Citizen Patriot; The Honolulu (Hawaii) Advertiser; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs death file; Navy muster rolls; Census; grave marker; U.S. Headstone Inscription and Interment Record; Michigan marriage license. The photo shows the ceremony at which Tony Czarnecki’s remains were interred. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.