Francis Mikolajczak is Grand Marshal of Veterans Day parade
2021 Veterans Day Grand Marshal Francis Mikolajczak.
November 11 will be a day to honor American veterans for their love of country and their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the national good. One member of that unique brotherhood is Petty Officer 3rd Class Francis Mikolajczak United States Navy.
The Mikolajczak family lived on the corner of Hill and High Streets, a warm, friendly neighborhood of diverse ethnic groups, all hard working immigrants, mostly Greek and Italian.
During the war they all worked two jobs and maintained backyard gardens and flocks of hens along with a few ducks. They all waited for sons and daughters to return from the battlefields of Europe and the islands of the Pacific and they all shared the pain when there were casualties.
When the ‘big one’ ended, the troops returned to a jubilant hometown and enjoyed a booming economy and a world at peace.
Those were the early years of Frank’s life. There was no doubt that some day he too would serve his country.
Frank began his education at the School Street School and remained in the Webster school system until graduation from Bartlett High in 1959. As a senior he played football, admitting that he had more interest in cars than he did in sports. He worked after school at Chabot’s garage on West Main Street in Dudley.
In that summer, the class of ‘59 sent four of its graduates into the military. Tom Bembenek, Ray Hade and Lynn Frost joined Frank and took the oath to protect their country from all enemies. Frank attended boot camp and electrician school at Great Lakes N.T.C. before being assigned to the USS Wasp CVS 18. The ASW carrier was being overhauled while dry-docked at Boston shipyards.
Since Frank’s surname contained most of the alphabet, his superiors christened him ‘Ajax.’ The nickname stuck for his entire four year enlistment.
Frank’s first cruise was detoured when the Wasp was ordered to proceed to the former Belgian Congo. The mission was to evacuate civilians who were endangered by the two warring factions of the country. Wasp arrived after the Air Force provided the service. The carrier, however, supplied the flyboys with the aviation fuel necessary for their planes to fly. A huge part of the next year or so was spent visiting countless seaports on the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas, the British Isles and Scandinavia. That is what sailors do, enjoy liberty on the beach.
In April of 1961, JFK, the CIA and a band of Cuban exiles launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was a poorly executed and ill-conceived caper that was over in a matter of hours. Exiles were imprisoned and the president had a foreign policy failure added to his legacy.
Castro asked his benefactors, the Russians, for missile batteries to deter any further attempts to invade Cuba. Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev agreed and shipments began. Spy planes photographed the launchers and the delivery of missiles. Kennedy could not allow that to happen in this hemisphere. The world held its breath... and waited for a ‘blink.’ Rejecting more aggressive action the president ordered a quarantine or blockade of Cuba, banning all foreign vessels from delivering their cargoes. A squadron of destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, CVS 18, was ordered to enforce the blockade.
This mission would not be like the usual “courtesy call” to exotic ports, nor a humanitarian visit for evacuation of those endangered. The Wasp, also known as “Stinger” by its crew, was carrying the newest anti-submarine detection devices and weapons. The presence of Soviet subs off-shore was a certainty, and a threat that Frank and his shipmates had to deal with.
Soon after arrival officers and crew welcomed the addition of heavy cruiser USS Newport News, the flagship of the blockading forces.
Cooler heads prevailed. Kennedy and Krushchev did not blink, ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. The US would remove missiles in Turkey, and Russia would remove the weapons in Cuba. The world could breathe again. Ajax went on his last cruise and was honorably discharged on June 3, 1963, with the rank Electricians Mate 3/c. He has received the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Medal and the Armed Force Expeditionary Medal.
Back home and in civilian clothes, Frank worked at Electric Boat and American Standard. He retired as a maintenance man from the Webster Housing Authority.
Not one to sit idle, Frank moonlighted as an entertainer, his alter-ego “Elvis” delighted audiences on the east coast, working with the 5 Satins, Tiny Tim and Joe Consolie and Flashback. He has done shows for hospitalized veterans, nursing homes and many charitable organizations.
Frank holds memberships in the VFW, the PAV and the American Legion.
Frank resides in Dudley with his wife Debbie. The couple heads south to Myrtle Beach for the winter even though San Remo, Italy, was his favorite port-of-call. Frank is still performing for his new friends down south.
Navy Veteran Frank Mikolajczak has been chosen as the Grand Marshal of 2021 Veterans Day program. Perhaps we can listen to his rendition of our National Anthem.
Thank you for your service, Frank.
-- Don Wayman