Even though he was only 23 years of age, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was no stranger to death. When he was just 12 years old, he and his brother John were walking with a friend when the three of them happened upon the lifeless frozen body of an area farmer. According to the Recorder news article describing the incident, the dead man was 47-year-old John Bazan, who was on his way back to his farmhouse north of Hagaman after a shopping trip to Amsterdam. Bazan had apparently slipped in the very icy road and broke his leg. After crawling as far as he could, he apparently collapsed again and died of exposure
Just two years later, during the summer of 1936, Leon’s two sisters were walking out of the Sacandaga Reservoir together during a summer outing, when 25 year old Eugenia Mazanek suddenly went under. New York State Trooper divers found her body hours later. They theorized at the time that she had apparently fallen into some sort of depression and could not make it back to the surface.
Leon’s parents were born in Poland and had each settled in Amsterdam during the first decade of the 20th century. After marrying, they moved into their home at 9 Grand Street, where they raised a total of seven children, five boys and two girls. Leon had been named after his Dad, who had a successful career as an agent for Metropolitan Insurance. Young Leon had graduated from Wilbur Lynch High School in 1939 and went to work for GE in the company’s apprentice program.
When the US entered WWII, Leon and three of his brothers entered service. Alfred was a private in the Army, John became a Captain in the Air Force and Henry, an Army Lieutenant. Meanwhile, Leon had joined the Navy and completed machinist mates school at the Naval Training Station in Illinois, where one of his classmates was Amsterdam’s Baldy Verderese, After completing all of his training he came home on leave on New Years Day in 1944. Later that month he received his first ship assignment and was sent into action in the Atlantic theater.
Leon was a watertender 1st class. A watertender is a crewman aboard a steam-powered ship who is responsible for tending to the fires and the boilers in the ship’s engine room.
With the German Navy defeated in the Atlantic, Leon’s ship was diverted to the Pacific to help in the final assault against Japan. On March 20, 1945, they engaged the enemy and Leon was hit by shrapnel from an exploding Japanese shell and died instantly. He was buried at sea.
In the closing paragraph of a letter to Leon’s Mom Bernice, his commanding officer wrote the following about her hero son: “We will always remember our friend and shipmate, as a fine upstanding, competent hard working man. During the last few months, especially when we were frequently in action against the Japanese, he performed his duties most creditably and served his country so well. You may be very proud of him. He was a brave man. We consider it a pleasure and a privilege to have known him and an honor to have served with him. We miss him very much.”
The late Bob Going wrote about Leon in his wonderful book “Where Do They Find Such Men”. Bob was kind enough to add the comment below regarding this post. I miss having Bob Going commenting on my posts.