Tony Naumchik served in a legendary American unit in World War II, the Flying Tigers, which started as a volunteer group — founded by another legend, Gen. Claire Chennault — to protect China from Japanese air attacks.
And decades after the war, Naumchik joined a Flying Tigers alumni group. He and his wife, Emily, traveled from their Egg Harbor Township home to reunions throughout the country for years.
Still, one thing Tony never did much was talk about his year in the Flying Tigers, late in a war that ended in 1945 — well after the former volunteers formally joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. For one thing, his main job left him firmly on the ground — he was a mechanic, so he was there to keep the Tigers flying, not to fly himself.
And after Tony died last month at 92, Emily said he really spoke more about his wartime work in the South American nation now called Suriname. Most people don’t think of World War II reaching South America, but Tony was sent there to protect Allied ships from enemy submarines.
One story he liked was that when his unit destroyed a German U-boat, the guys got a leave as a reward. So Tony got to fly home from South America to North Jersey — he grew up in Franklin, in Sussex County — for three days.
After the war, Tony went home again to a job with more links to legends. He joined Curtiss-Wright — a company founded by aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss and the Wright brothers — but when his division moved to California in 1961, Tony didn’t. He took a job with the Federal Aviation Administration in Egg Harbor Township instead.
He didn’t like South Jersey at first — “It was too flat,” Emily recalls.
And Tony liked mountains — especially going down them on skis. He didn’t start to ski until age 50, said his son, Bob Naumchik, of Galloway Township. But he was still skiing into his 90s — Tony made four runs down a Vermont mountain at 91.
“And this wasn’t the kiddie slope,” Bob added.
When he wasn’t skiing or working, the father of five spent a lot of time in Linwood at the Mainland Recreation Association. He was an original MRA member in 1962, and “he was a legend over there,” said Joe Breidenstine, of Linwood, the club secretary.
Tony was a former president and a board member at the pool, which mainly translates into “slave labor,” Breidenstine said, a regular volunteer for almost any job. And he was a good guy to have on your team, because he could make something out of nothing. His wife remembers him building a garage for their house out of wooden crates — that would’ve been trashed if he didn’t ask to take them home.
“He was always there, always a worker,” Breidenstine said. “He was climbing ladders there in his 80s.”
Contact Martin DeAngelis: