For decades, Benjamin Chrzanoski never spoke of his time in the Army. He was a humble East Northport credit manager who lived a quiet life.
It wasn’t until about five years ago that he was ready to tell his story: Chrzanoski had been captured by Nazis during World War II and held as a prisoner of war for seven months.
“It was a part of his life I didn’t know he’d experienced,” said his daughter-in-law, Kate Baker, of Locust Valley. “It gave me a greater respect for him.”
Chrzanoski died on Sept. 12 at Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, where he had been living as his health declined for several weeks, his family said. He was 94.
Chrzanoski was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the youngest of two sons. His father was an electrician and his mother was a garment worker.
While his brother, Ted, chose a military career, Chrzanoski wanted something different. He enrolled at Columbia University at 19. But his first semester was interrupted when he was drafted to serve as a corporal in the Army, his family said.
His family said the most complete telling of his story came in 2016 at a ceremony with Rep. Steve Israel, who presented Chrzanoski with a new set of the medals he’d earned during his brief military career.
According to Chrzanoski, he left for England in August 1944 and in November 1944, he landed on the beaches at Normandy, with orders to cross the Moselle River into Germany.
The mission didn’t go according to plan. They made it into Germany, but the river tide was too high to return to France. By Chrzanoski’s account, the group of soldiers quickly realized they were trapped, with no chance at a rescue.
Once captured, he and his fellow soldiers were transported in the back of a locked box truck to a labor camp in Neubrandenburg, Baker said. They weren’t given any food or water during the three-day drive.
At home, Chrzanoski’s family and his girlfriend feared the worst when letters stopped arriving, said his only son, Ben Chrzanoski, 69.
But in May 1945, the war was starting to shift. The Russians were approaching and the camp guards fled. The Germans could no longer hold onto Chrzanoski and he was released.
In total, the German military captured 97,000 American soldiers and 96,000 of them survived the war, according to military records.
Chrzanoski was honorably discharged in November 1945.
He married Janet and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Penn State University, his son said. They moved to East Northport and he settled into a quiet life as a regional credit manager for American Machine and Foundry.
“He was really smart with a great sense of humor,” said his son. “He was up for anything.”
The only evidence of his military past was his deep interest in history. He was constantly reading about World War II, the younger Chrzanoski said.
After Janet died about six years ago, Ben Chrzanoski and his wife Baker wanted to support the older Chrzanoski, so they began taking him to meetings for the Long Island chapter of a group called American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Family members were aware he had been a prionser of war but they knew little of his experience. The group was the key to him opening up.
“He never talked about it,” Baker said. “In this group they did. They created a camaraderie around it.”
In the final years of his life, he became proud of his service, Baker and Chrzanoski said. He attended military events with his fellow POWs, including one in 2015, when he was honored with five other POWs at the American Airpower Museum in East Farmingdale.
Chrzanoski was buried with military honors on Tuesday at Calverton National Cemetery.
In addition to his son and daughter-in-law, Chrzanoski is survived by two nieces.