WALTER J “LADDIE” CHOJNACKI JR
December 4, 1946 – February 7, 2006
The war was over, Christmas was approaching and his father, Walter J. Chojnacki Sr. (1917-1999) was home from the Merchant Marine having honorably served in the war effort. Year 1946 found his mother Jean Niedzinski Chojnacki (1916-2000) waiting patiently for both her husband to safely return and for her first child to be born. The wait was worth it. “Laddie” was born in Lyndhurst, New Jersey on December 4, 1946 and was to spend the next 59 years making a positive difference in people who came to know him.
Three siblings joined the family with the births of Stanley “Chippy” Chojnacki, Dennis Chojnacki and their sister Maureen Chojnacki.
Laddie marked time after graduation from high school until his chance came to serve his country. On September 7, 1965 Laddie joined the US Army – a decision that would change his life forever. In August of 1967, then a Spec 4, he was deployed to Vietnam and through good fortune, found his way to Kontum Province of the Central Highlands in the “Famous Fighting Fourth” Infantry Division. Laddie, being assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, volunteered for the 1st Brigade LRRPs, running missions out of Dak To. It was here that he distinguished himself and evolved into the fierce warrior he was to remain during his entire life. Throughout his life, missions may have changed, the man never did. He was to patrol with a team of men who were to become his life-long friends. He was a man that could be depended upon in situations others feared.
In the initial stages of the United States presence in Vietnam, the clear lack of real-time intelligence nearly allowed the NVA to overrun Col. Hal Moore’s 1st Cav in the Ia Drang, a battle related in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once….and Young”. Shortly after that hard-won battle, the Cav was replaced by the 4th Infantry Division with the mission to “Tame the Ia Drang”. One of the first decisions was to determine how best to know the enemy. The solution was to insert 4-man teams of Rangers, then called LRRPs, to surreptitiously live in the jungle amongst the enemy. Laddie was one of the “early” LRRP / Rangers who were tasked with the mission of seeking out the enemy. In an effort to unify the command of the various Division LRRPs, all were absorbed into one unit, 75th Infantry (ABN). The 4th Division LRRPs were all absorbed into Company K (Ranger), 75th Infantry (Airborne).
Laddie is remembered as fierce in combat and “highly entertaining” during stand down. His team mates recall him as a man who instilled confidence in others with his demeanor. Fellow 1st Bde LRRPs Pete Julian and Bill Buckley recall the story of Laddie’s team having to undergo an “hot” extraction under enemy fire. With no LZ available, the team was forced to use a rope ladder suspended from the chopper. In the turmoil, the pilot became disoriented and flew them into Laos. They finally made it back to Dak To, where they seemed more excited with the “trip” to Laos than the enemy contact. Such was life for Laddie’s friends and teammates’. Laddie was discharged on July 27, 1968 and it is a day likely still celebrated in North Vietnam.
Upon returning home, he shook off the jungle mist, laid down his weapon and resumed life in Lyndhurst. He was to marry Bernadette Oldham Chojnacki in May 1980 and they were to remain devoted to each other. Laddie retired from the Department of the Treasury as a code inspector, and plan reviewer. He was president of the Vietnam Combat Veterans Coalition. He was a member of the VCVC Band of Brothers, the VFW of Lyndhurst and the Bordentown Elks #2085. “Laddie” enjoyed golf, cooking and spending time with his family and VCVC brothers.
Sadly, on February 7, 2006 at the age of 60, Cancer did what so very many enemy soldiers could not do those many years ago. Unlike the dangerous solitude of the Central Highlands, he was surrounded by the comfort and safety of his loved ones as he drew his final breath. He served his family and his community as vigorously as he did his county and fought hard in every battle he entered. The Ranger community’s reputation for valor exists because of the contributions of such men. Rest in Peace Brother Ranger.
Walter, J “Laddie” Chojnacki was laid to rest in at the Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Arneytown, NJ