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World War II mechanic leads Stamford’s Veterans Day parade

November 11, 2018

STAMFORD — Sgt. Ted Ogonek is not used to being in the spotlight.

The 92-year-old veteran spent his time in World War II working as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer, toiling behind the scenes to make war airplanes airborne and efficient.

But on Sunday, all eyes were on Ogonek as he served as the grand marshal of the Stamford Veterans Day parade.

“I’m a low-key guy,” said Ogonek, who still lives in Stamford. “I’ve always been in the background. Now I’m in the forefront...When (I) was first told I was a candidate, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather because I never expected anything like this...I never had such an honor in my life.”

In a Jeep, Ogonek made his way down Bedford Street, greeting residents standing three deep on the sidewalks of the city he has always called home.

Ogonek, the youngest of six children of first-generation Polish immigrants, grew up on Selleck Street. He attended John J. Ryle Elementary School, Cloonan Junior High School and the Connecticut Trade School (now known as J.M. Wright Technical High School).

Ogonek was drafted into the Army in March 1944. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and learned how to work on aircraft mechanics, focusing his craft on B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24 Liberators and B-29 Super Fortresses.

The work drew on Ogonek’s love of airplanes that dated back to his childhood when his older brother would take him to watch the planes at the Westchester County Airport.

After Japan surrendered, Ogonek went to Germany to work on P-51 Mustangs and helped assemble the P-80 Shooting Star, the first U.S. jet fighter plane in Germany. Ogonek’s skills in the latter project were evident, helping him get promoted to corporal and then sergeant in just one month.

After the war, he returned to Stamford where he struggled to find work before getting a job at Stamford Tool and Die. Ogonek spent 25 years there before joining Parker Elemer as a manager for integrated circuit production. He was also part of the effort to get a World War II memorial constructed in Washington.

Ogonek and other local veterans were honored at Sunday’s parade through musical numbers performed by local bands, including the marching band from Ogonek’s former school, Cloonan. American flags lined the streets on light posts and parade participants were greeted at the end of the route with an enormous flag hoisted over Bedford Street by a firetruck.

“To me, it’s very important,” Ognek said of honoring veterans. “My brother was in the Navy, my sister-in-law was in the Navy. We had three of us in the service and so did other families. We lost several hundred people from Stamford who were killed in the war. It was a big undertaking.”

Many of Stamford’s younger residents attended the parade, whether marching in a band or with a club, or sitting along the route in lawn chairs, covered by blankets and waving miniature flags.

It’s something Army veteran Paul Kipphut, who came from his Cove home to watch the parade, thinks is a good thing.

“The young people don’t know what sacrifices people gave for our freedom,” he said.

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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