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One Photo; One Story: They thought they had Frankie fingered but they figured wrong.

Francis J.

Photo: Francis J.

There was a knock on the door of the small flat on East 137th Street in the Bronx, New York. The men announced themselves as military police from the United States Airforce and they wanted to speak with Airman First Class, Francis J. Radziewicz.

My grandmother, “Nana” didn’t say a word. She looked at my father, William Albert who had just returned from Germany after his tour of duty as a sergeant in the US Army.

Photo: William A.

We said goodbye to my uncle “Frankie” this weekend. He was my father’s older brother. Frankie was 88.

Frank’s obituary was a few short sentences in the newspaper. It got me thinking that his life was so much more.

Every life is a completed story, a story that should be told and celebrated.

When the knock on the door came, Frankie was absent without leave (AWOL). He had not reported for duty in 60 days.

Frankie was AWOL because he was in love. As I spoke with my family at his wake, I kept hearing over and over that after his wife Gertrude (Gertie) passed away in 2003 he was never the same.

I let it sink in. It must have been excruciating to be that sad for 17 years. God Bless Frankie, the reunion in the afterlife must have been incredible.

His love story with her lasted over 50 years.

A few months before the MP’s knocked on the door. Frankie was on leave from Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu. Dad was recently discharged; Frankie had a year of service remaining. He spent his leave with Gertie. When it was time to return to the service, he decided to stay home. He was happy to be with her and wanted to begin their lives together. For a long time, Frankie was AWOL (absent without love) in his life without Gertrude. The trouble was he was absent without leave from The US Air Force.

He decided to stay home because he thought that they wouldn’t miss him. Well they did.

When Nana finally let them in, they announced that Airman Radziewicz was AWOL and being taken into US Custody. They grabbed my father and began to put handcuffs on him. Nana grabbed a hairbrush and was ready to bash the MP’s. Dad managed to convince them that he was Sgt. William A. US Army discharged and that he could produce his papers.

As the confusion was sorted out Nana put away the hairbrush, Dad called Frankie and arranged to have him turn himself in. Frankie served a few days in the brig and suffered a rank demotion.

He finished his service and married Gertrude. He lived the rest of his life madly in love with her.

Francis was buried in Brigadier General William C. Doyle memorial cometary in North Hanover Township, New Jersey. He was laid to rest with full military honors next to his wife.

My cousin said to me as we stood next to his casket, “I could imagine what my mom said to him in heaven. She was probably giving him a hard time over something, and he’s probably loving it”.

Rest in peace Airman. Thank you for your service.

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