Born: 10 October 1924
Died: 12 July 2004
Transcript of the eulogy I delivered at my father’s memorial service on July 30, 2004 at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsville, PA.
Leonard was born on October 10, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey to Felix Sczepura and Catherine Peransky. He attended Central High School in Newark, New Jersey where he studied vocational courses including machine tool operation—which is blueprint reading, shop math, and measurement and calibration. While he was still in high school, he received his induction notice during World War II. And the only thing he ever complained about as far as his military service is that they inducted him before he was able to attend his graduation from high school.
Dad served in the Army Air Force during World War II. This is prior to the Air Force becoming a separate service in 1947. He entered active duty on 4/29/1943. He was one of those people who requested flight duty. He actually wanted to fly. And he told a story that when he asked the…I guess the commanders that he wanted that training, they looked at him and they said, “What, are you crazy?” He didn’t really realize the high casualty rates for those units during the service—during that war. So, he got part of his wish, he was a waist-gunner…served on the B-24 Liberators—those are bombers.
As I mentioned, those units suffered very high casualty rates. I won’t bore you with the details and I’m not one to do it justice—I’m not that big of an expert, but the next time you’re driving down to Florida on your next vacation and when you’re on 95 there’s a little Air Force Museum—the 8th Air Force Museum—just off 95 in Savannah, Georgia, and it’s worth your while to get out and stop and to take that tour. You’ll get a very good idea of the type of efforts that those people put…during those campaigns, and it’s also worthwhile because you can’t get all your information from Catch-22 and Hollywood. It’s good to see the real thing sometimes.
So, Dad had air combat service…and a couple of theaters of operation actually. He was in Northern and Southern France. He served in the Rhineland campaign. Some of you might remember the Rhineland campaign included the Bridge at Remagen. You might remember that from a movie. He served during the North Apennines & PO Valley campaign, which was in Italy. This is Northern Italy towards the Italian Alps—up in the mountains—and the Germans at that time established a defensive line. They called it the Gothic Line. They were trying to prevent the Allies from advancing north obviously into Germany from there. That was a pretty tough go, but he was in that campaign. You can actually go on the Internet and see some information about that. And he also served in Rome and Arno and he always talked about seeing the Coliseum and the catacombs and he told many stories about the times when he would visit those areas.
He received a number of decorations and citations. He received the American Service Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
When he came back from oversees duty, he attended the Army Air Force Training School—clerical school—at Ft. Collins, Colorado, where he actually, believe it or not, was a clerk typist, where he did general typing at Group Headquarters there. Also during that time, he served as an instructor in the Air Corps Ground School where he taught aircraft identification. So all told, he served about a year and a half overseas and just under a year stateside. And he was separated from active duty on November 5, 1945 and he had the grade of PFC.
After his service, he attended National Technical Institute in Jersey City, New Jersey where he received certificates in mechanical drafting and machine design, 1947 and 1948.
On June 25, 1949 in Brooklyn, New York, he married Theresa Lipinski—and Hubert Sczepura was Dad’s brother who was one of the witnesses, and Mary Lipinski, Mom’s sister, was one of the witnesses and also…I forgot about this until I saw the picture up front, that Carol Ann, his cousin, was the flower girl during the wedding. They were married for 55 years until Mom’s death on February 14th this year.
During his working career, he worked at quite a few places. I’ll hit some of the highlights for you. I guess the place he liked the best was Curtiss- Wright Corporation up in Woodridge, New Jersey where he worked his way up to design checker. Design checker is basically…they do design verification of the blueprints for the products that they’re going to be making. So he would check the dimensioning and verify that everything was conforming to military standards. He actually worked on the blades for the turbofan jet engines. There are actually blades inside the engine. You don’t see it from the outside but if you look in there, you’ll see there are blades and he actually was working on the design verification for those types of parts. And he also was working on the rotary combustion engine— also known as the Wankel engine—when Curtiss-Wright was looking at producing those.
He actually worked there many times. He went in for about 17 years. He got laid off a few times and went back. So he tried to stay there—he wanted to retire from there.
He also worked at Lockheed Electronics Corporation in Plainfield—actually Watchung, New Jersey—where he worked on Naval weapon systems and I believe the weapon system was the Mark 86, but I don’t remember for sure—I think that was it. He also worked at Gilbert Plastics in Green Brook where he was working on plastic injection molds—that is, design and layout. He also worked at Unisys Corporation in Flemington where he was designing printed circuit boards for various types of computer equipment. He also did a short stint at Bell Labs in Holmdel where he got an introduction to CAD systems—computer-aided design systems. So he got his feet wet in that type of technology, which he kind of liked.
All during these years—which was quite a few years—he worked part-time at Sears both in Newark and in Watchung. This is part-time for 20 plus years—contiguous years. That means no time off…he worked part-time. He worked in the electrical department, auto department and the paint department.
At Lockheed he actually did 2 tours of duty there, as you could say. He went in once—I think he got laid off one time—and then a few years later he went back again and he finally retired, actually, from Lockheed Electronics Corporation in October 1989.
Dad was also a member of the American Legion Clinton Post and he held the office of Service Officer.
Dad was, needless to say, a very proud person—he was a very proud man. He was actually a self-made man in a sense. He never asked anyone. I don’t remember this…I don’t remember him ever asking anyone how to do anything. And when it was time to do any driving, he did all the driving. He never asked directions. Okay. He didn’t like to receive help from anybody. He’d rather be the one offering the help.
And around the house, he did everything himself. He did woodworking. He paneled our rec room in Bound Brook, New Jersey. It was a concrete wall when we moved in so he decided to panel it with knotty pine—the real wood, not the veneer stuff. He did the best job I’ve ever seen with a little saw and a plane and he had the tightest corners that I’ve seen. I haven’t seen professional woodworkers do that kind of work today. He also could do electric work. He installed light fixtures, outlets, ceiling fans—for Jim. I think he said he did a few for you. So he was good at that. He did plumbing—installed a water heater. He worked on the car. He installed shocks. He’d do oil changes. He’d do brake jobs, tune-ups—he did everything. He did all of it himself. He never really took the car in for something unless it was really major or more extensive engine-type work.
He really didn’t like to be one-upped. Okay. He told a story one time, when he was working at Sears. I guess he worked with a few co-workers there that were…these were ex-GIs too, but they were Marines so they would give him a hard time about the Air Force—how easy they had it during the war. So Dad told us he asked them…he said, “Okay. Well, when you were in a fox hole, right, you were in there and did a bullet ever come up out of the ground and hit you in the butt?” and they’d look at him and say, “No.” He says, “Well, when I was up in the plane [in the B-24] the bullets came from below, from the sides, from the top, from the back. You could be shot from any direction.” From what I understand, the Marines never challenged him again after he told them that.
Dad had a few problems. He seemed to be intimidated by educated, successful people. I guess that was due to his…kind of like he’s self-taught. He never really attended college. So at times he was intimidated, I guess, and it was kind of hard for him to give compliments out. He’d let you know he approved, but he didn’t do it directly—he did it very indirectly. You never heard something like…from him direct like, You did a good job, or That was nice, what you did.
And towards his latter days he sometimes became angry and defensive. And I thought about this a lot, and I said, what should I say about this? And I thought about it and I came up with some…what I think is a long list of reasons that actually built up to this. I think he missed a lot of our years growing up because he worked two jobs when we were kids. So he was not around and I think we grew up faster than he expected, and all of a sudden he looked at us and we were adults. He really liked those years when we were kids because he liked being the father. I think he never really got over the lay-off from Curtiss-Wright because he really wanted to stay there and he wanted to retire from there. And a lot of guys…you talk to them after they retire and they say, “Ah, I got it great. I love it. It’s a lot of free time.” He never liked his retirement. He never liked to retire. He wanted to work.
He tried to do work on the side—computer-aided drafting. I helped him pick out a computer and bought him the Generic CAD program and basically all I did was install it on his computer and wrote down the DOS commands on how to start it, and he learned that program himself. I can’t believe it because I looked at the manual, and it would have took me about two or three years to figure out how that thing worked. He was good at it. He was sitting there and he could whip out drawings quicker than anybody I’d seen. I remember when I worked in New York a few years ago, there were times when I’d go over to the house to visit, he’d ask me, he’d say, “Is there, do you think there’s any job over there for me, something I could do,” this and that? And I’d look at him and say he was crazy. I’d say, “What are you nuts? Haven’t you had enough of that stuff for 25-30 years?” but I didn’t realize he was probably serious and he really wanted to work.
I think that he never really got over…he regretted the sale of their Clinton house. He mentioned I think, once to me, maybe to Debbie a few times, that when he was in the nursing home—a few days before he passed away—that he wanted to go home. He’d tell Debbie he wanted to go home and Debbie would say, “Well, home. Where do you want to go? You mean Gerry’s home?” “No, no.” “My home?” “No.” Then he’d say, “No. The other place where I used to be,” so he was referring to Clinton but he could never say Clinton house. He always said home.
And of course his health problems towards the end—he had problems walking. He had muscle weakness in his legs so he stopped driving and I think that killed him. When there was time to drive, nobody drove if Dad was around. Dad drove. You didn’t drive—you sat. But he drove and when he used to let my mother drive…and drove him around…that killed his ego. He always would drive.
And then of course, I think the final thing was Mom’s…when she passed away.
But Dad had good and happy times. I think his happiest time when he was working at Curtiss-Wright and when we were growing up as kids. Like I said before, even though he was proud—it was hard for him to give compliments. I don’t think there was any doubt that he was the proud father. All you have to do is look at some of the pictures that we have up front and upstairs. You could tell, without a doubt, he was the proud father.
And Jennifer wrote something interesting in a card. She sent me a sympathy card and she wrote, this is quoting from her card, He will always remain the happy Grandpa from years ago in my mind. Back in Clinton, having BBQs on the back deck or at Christmas time, and I think that’s pretty good advice because I’ll remember him that way. The only difference is I go back a few more Christmases than she does.
And speaking of memories, I have a few memories to go over—not too many, but a few. I think the earliest memory I have of a time that me and my father spent together was when we lived in Newark and he took me in the car and we drove out to the rail yards—over in Newark, over by Route 21. I guess…as the tracks that come into Penn Station. And we could pull up pretty close to the tracks at that time. So we pulled up there and we were watching the trains go by and I remember to this day—that was pretty neat. Wow, we were there watching trains go by. It’s a big deal. I think I was less than 6 years old at the time.
Then we used to go on numerous excursions to White Castle—one of my favorite places to eat. And this is in the days that when you had White Castle you sat in the car and the carhops came and served you and brought your food out on a tray and hooked it to your window. And you ate in the car. You have to watch American Graffiti to see that now.
And then he used to take us to Bowcraft Playland on Route 22 in Scotch Plains. He used to take us there at night—I remember…in the evenings when he was coming back…when he used to work in Sears and we’d meet him. We’d come back and on the way home, sometimes, we’d stop off to play miniature golf a couple of times. And Bowcraft Playland’s still there. It’s not gone.
Many times he took us fishing at the Belmar marina. Of course, Mom and Dad…they would have their coffee and I’d go out—I couldn’t wait to go fishing. He bought a couple deep-sea poles and we’d throw some lines in and actually catch some fish, and that was a good time. We spent a lot of hours there and that was fun.
And of course, we went to the drive-in movies. We went to Somerville, East Brunswick and if there was something playing that we liked, we drove all the way to Morris Plains from Bound Brook to see a drive-in. And of course, if there’s a second feature…that’s kind of late coming home.
Two of the favorite stores that we used to go to a lot—we spent a lot of time at Two Guys and Great Eastern Mills. One was in Watchung and the other in Green Brook on Route 22. They’re gone now, but we used to go there a lot—there weren’t any malls in those days.
And occasionally on the way to Green Brook to those stores, sometimes Dad would take us up…go up Chimney Rock Road from Bound Brook, quote unquote up into the mountains, and we’d drive what we call the scenic route and we’d go and stop off at Washington Rock Park—which is just up in the mountains from Green Brook. And if you look upstairs—I don’t know if Debbie brought them—we have a lot of pictures, actually, that we took when we were kids there. We went there a lot.
Another place we used to go was Bear Mountain and that’s up in New York State. Back in the time when we used to go, they used to have ski jumpers practicing there. So that was pretty neat. We’d go there in the winter and we’d watch the ski jumpers come down the hill and that was pretty exciting. It was better than the Olympics.
And of course we took many Sunday drives. This was a tradition. I think we did this pretty much the whole time we were growing up. We went from Bound Brook…we went everywhere. In one day we went to Trenton, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, up all through the Poconos, up to High Point State Park, all the way up 206 north, all the way south 206, all the way on Route 1, all the way on Route 31—all those roads. We covered them all in one day.
One of the favorite places we used to go—especially during the fall—was Smithville. That’s just south of Atlantic City. We used to take the Route 9 road during the fall when the leaves would start changing. It was a nice ride down there. And of course, Mom used to like the Christmas shop and Dad, of course, he went also but that wasn’t his favorite place. And then we took many trips to the Shore in the fall and winter. When it was really cold, we used to like to go out there and walk out on the jetties and now they tore those up so you can’t even walk out there anymore.
And then of course, there were many trips we used to take to Connecticut where my grandmother…where my grandparents used to live.
Another thing Dad used to do…and this was kind of unusual, I guess, I don’t know if I heard of anybody doing this, but during the Christmas holidays—especially Christmas Eve—he’d sometimes go to see his aunt and his aunt would give him these wafers that they used for communion—the Catholic communion. And he’d bring those home and we’d go through this little tradition where everybody would break a piece of the wafer off and then you’d go around to each other and you’d break off a person’s piece of their wafer and you’d wish them some good thing. And then they would break away a piece of your wafer off and they’d wish you something good, and you’d go around and everybody would do this and at the end, everybody would eat the wafer—a little Catholic tradition that we used to do. And Dad would initiate this. Knowing Dad towards the end, you would never imagine it, but he used to.
I think something he never got much credit for…but now that I’m thinking about this, something came to my mind, Dad also had some cooking specialties. I know Mom used to do all the cooking, but there were times when Dad did something and the thing he used to make the best was the hamburgers. I remember Mom used to say…she’d be getting ready to mix the meat and then she’d say, “Do you want Dad to mix the meat, or what? Do you want him to do it again?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let Dad mix it.” So she’d call him and he’d drop whatever he was doing and he’d mix the meat—with his bare hands. And another secret ingredient was stale, hard rolls. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the secret, but that’s part of it. Those hamburgers were good. You couldn’t put them on a grill—they’d fall through. That’s how tender they were.
And another thing he made…this is the first time I’d ever seen him cook—the only time I think I’ve ever seen him cook in the kitchen. I don’t know where Mom was at the time, but she wasn’t around that day, but he made eggs and onions. He got a big pan out and he’d start frying onions and he’d fry them up and then ya’ know, we’d be standing there watching and we’d say, “What is he going to do next?” He’d get about 2 dozen eggs out, crack them all and put them all in there and stir them up and I thought, Oh, man, that’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. This old pan…it’s about 3 inches thick with eggs. Uh, it’s horrible—Ya’ know…Uh, I got sick. Then he’d cook them up and put it on our plate and we’d have to eat them and I said, “Boy, those are good.” To this day, I love eggs and onions.
One of the earliest…the first time…earliest time that I saw Dad actually read his Bible—he had an old King James Bible that he read from—I think I was about 10 years old and I guess it was a Sunday afternoon, and he was reading the Bible. I was sitting there, wondering what he was doing and then he said, “Okay. I’ll read something to you,” and he’d read a little bit and then he’d give a little commentary in between the verses and then he’d read some more. And he’d be reading from Job—not John 3:16 like they tell you to read. But no, he was reading from Job so I thought about it, and I said, I’d like to take this time before I close…I’d like to read some of the verses back to him that he read to me during that time. And believe it or not, I do remember a few of the verses. I might have added maybe one or two just to keep some continuity but I’d like to read the ones that he used to read to me.
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job: and that man was perfect and upright and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of this hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold he is in thine hand; but save his life.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?
Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
As I was going through Dad’s wallet—I had to go through his wallet to check some of the things he had in there—and of course, no one went through Dad’s wallet while he was well. Now that he’s gone, I went through his wallet. And he had this little card—some kind of cutout thing. I don’t know where he got it from—I don’t know how long he had it, but it was in his wallet and it’s a verse. It’s a verse from Isaiah and it says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” So on July 12th at about 8:10 PM, Dad went home on wings of eagles.