Friday, April 07, 2006

Death of a Friend

Sam Hronis, 92, long time Oshkosh resident, passed away late Wednesday evening. An unforgettable character, he brightened any day with his presence. His wit and his trademark smile could disarm anyone. He could compliment you and without changing his demeanor chastise you for some fault. His verbal barbs were dead-on, always true, and they made for a few enemies here and there. I understood him having known many Greeks where I used to live, and smiled even when he zinged me.

He was born into WWI and took part in WWII. Medicine was his forte in the service. He served as a medic in the area of Japan and knew war up close. He saved a lot of people and was proud of that. He performed many procedures that would have certainly had him arrested had he been in the U.S. - since he was not an MD. Sulfa drugs, forerunners to our modern antibiotics, were the answer to many maladies. He was treated as a 'god' by native women and children on islands south of Japan. They used the sulfa drugs freely and didn't know until years later that those drugs eventually caused more harm than good.

I told Sam that I once played for a wedding at the Greek Orthodox Church off East Washington Blvd. in Madison. That brought back memories to him and he later asked me if I had ever been to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee. I hadn't, and as short as a week ago he reminded me to make that trip. When I do, I will be thinking of him. In that same conversation (a week ago) we talked about a couple of Greek restaurants on State St. in Madison. He told me that his relatives owned one of those, retired recently and quit the business. I had eaten there many times. It is now a pizza place directly across from the Parthenon, the other Greek restaurant which serves a pretty mean Gyro & Fries.

Sam wrote many letters to the editor which the Northwestern printed. Last fall he wrote one critical of the city's leaf collection and suggested a cheaper way to do it. I was told that the Streets Dept. began doing things differently the day after the letter appeared! Good for Sam.

He had been married about SEVENTY YEARS! Incredible! To give you an idea how long that is: That's more than my age and both my marriages put together...and I'm no spring chicken. I never met Sam's wife. She wasn't well and he took care of her, doted on her. He would leave the house for an hour a couple of times a day but was always anxious to get back home. When he left he would more often than not eat at the Salvation Army. He enjoyed getting out of the house and enjoyed conversation.

Those conversations would sometimes become a rant about the Veteran's Administration and the rising costs of drugs, the thugs in power in Washington and how the Republicans would continually try to cut the V.A. budget - while at the same time tell people to 'support the troops'. Sam had no use for their two-faced B.S. and was at no loss for words if someone challenged him.

He supported any effort to stop the current war in Iraq. He told me once that he didn't know if the protests at the sundial did any good, but he had to hand it to anyone who would.

A week ago he retold a story, one from WWII that had haunted him for sixty years. A battle was over, he had tended to the injured American soldiers, and a Japanese soldier lay dying. Sam could see what was wrong, could've saved him, but wasn't allowed to help him. It was against U.S. rules to aid enemy injured. His commanders were nearby, he didn't dare help, and he watched the fellow die. He mentioned that the fellows pockets were probably checked later and more often that not a picture of a girlfriend / wife and kids would be found. That to Sam was the tragedy of war.

That's my salute to Sam.

A memorial service for Sam will be held at the Salvation Army. The date and time has not been announced. The general public is welcome to attend.

1 comment:

Gary said...

A note on Sam which I didn't mention before. My 'civic endeavors' from time to time made Sam concerned for me. For about the last year he was prepared to post bail for me in case of arrest. He said: " I'll post your bail up to $500" (emphasis)"AND NOT ONE PENNY MORE!" He brought that up at least once a week.

I guess I'll have to find someone new...