JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — It’s been more than 70 years since the war in Korea.
One Tri-Cities veteran served his country during the Korean War using an unusual skill far from the combat zone.
Stan Grocki of Johnson City, Tennesse, just turned 93 years old.
As a child of Polish immigrants and part of a big family in Brooklyn, New York, he learned a big lesson at an early age.
“You had to be independent,” he said. “I was always independent. And in a big family, you have to be independent. You can’t rely on somebody else.”
That lesson served him well in 1950. The Korean War was raging. Grocki was 21 at the time, and he knew it was just a matter of time.
“It was on my mind,” he said.” “I knew – I’ve got to do something. I’m waiting for the draft board to call me, and nothing’s happening. So I took it in my own hands and I went in and joined.”
His first assignment in the U.S. Navy was on the U.S.S. Coral Sea. Grocki was on the maiden deployment for the aircraft carrier. Destination: the Mediterranean Sea.
“We were acting as a training ship,” Grocki said. “We were training new pilots. New squadrons were coming out. We were training them. We would take about six months, cruise and train them.”
Grocki was given a specific job, one he landed after ship leaders found out about his hobby he’d picked up as a boy back home.
“I’d learned to use a camera and to develop the film,” he said. “My old brother taught me.”
So he was assigned to capture images of everyday life on the U.S.S. Coral Sea.
“They assigned me to the flight deck,” he said. “Anytime there were flight operations, I was on the flight deck.”
Grocki said the ship’s onboard photo lab was a self-contained news and public relations operation. But it was more. A big part of his mission was to gather evidence when things went wrong on the aircraft carrier.
“There were a lot of accidents on a ship,” he said. “The Bureau wanted to see this whenever they could.”
Soon, Grocki was able to spot planes in trouble as pilots in training attempted to land on the deck of the U.S.S. Coral Sea. When a crash occurred, he was first on the scene collecting images that later would provide critical information for the training of pilots headed to the war in Korea.
“I felt lucky that I was where I was,” he said.
These days, Stan Grocki spends much of his time in his office surrounded by books and old photographs reminding him of his time in service to the country he loves.
“America is the land of freedom,” he said. “I saw what there was when I went Europe. You could see it, you could hear it. There was nothing like the United States. That’s why everybody tries to come here, even as bad as it is now. They’re still trying to come here.”