Thomas Michael Kuznicki, Sr., my maternal great-grandfather, enlisted in the United States Navy on May 19, 1942 in Buffalo, New York. At the time of his enlistment, he was working as a truck driver at Allegheny Ludlum Steel in Dunkirk, was recently married to my great-grandmother, Beatrice Maude Peterson, and was expecting his first child, my grandfather. Thomas had not attended any training schools or been trained to work or serve in the U.S. Navy, and his highest level of education was sophomore year of high school.
Thomas was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and his initial rating was Seaman First Class (S1c), one of the lowest three pay grades (this was standard for a newly-enlisted or newly-drafted individual who had not received prior service training). As a Seaman First Class, Thomas performed ordinary deck duties in connection with the upkeep and operations of the ship, including standing watch as a look-out, maintaining telephone logs, acting as a messenger and working as a member of the gun crew. Men with this rating were often referred to as “strikers” because they were learning a skill through on-the-job training in order to advance; eventually, Thomas achieved the rating of Carpenter’s Mate Third Class (CM3c) and, by the end of the war, he had achieved the rating of Carpenter’s Mate Second Class (CM2c). Carpenter’s Mates included carpenters and joiners, and these men were responsible for repairing and replacing deck planking, tiling, caulk seams and other parts of the ship, as well as constructing and repairing small boats.
During World War II, the sport of boxing was popular throughout Hawaii, and the military sponsored boxing “smokers” on ship flight decks at Pearl Harbor in addition to civilian boxing. Military boxing was subject to certain statutes that made it illegal “to exchange blows for money or a thing of any value, of for a championship, or for which admission was charged, or for which money was wagered.” Throughout his Navy service, Thomas acted as a sparring partner for professional prize fighters who were also serving–even though he had no experience in competitive boxing prior to joining the U.S. Navy. The men definitely placed bets and exchanged money on these fights, but it was often kept under-the-radar.
Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy on September 29, 1945 in Boston, Massachusetts after two years, eight months and ten days of service. His “Notice of Separation” record indicates that he intended to return to work at Allegheny Ludlum Steel in Dunkirk, New York and was furnished with a travel allowance at the rate of five cents per mile from Boston to Dunkirk. Thomas’ and Beatrice’s son, Thomas Michael Kuznicki, Jr., was born in September 1942 while Thomas was in Hawaii; he later enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Vietnam War.