Pearl Harbor survivor Chlapowski buried in Laurel veterans cemetery
by Mary Pickett, Billings Gazette
Ron Crocker didn't know Ed Chlapowski, but the retired chief petty officer, decked out in his dress uniform, came to Chlapowski's burial on Friday to honor a fellow sailor.
As a young U.S. Navy radioman, Chlapowski witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor and sent out the first message to the Pacific fleet of the attack. He died at age 88 on Sunday at his home in Billings.
After a funeral Mass at Little Flower Catholic Church on Friday morning, Chlapowski was buried with full military honors at the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel, one of several veterans' projects that Chlapowski actively supported during his life.
Crocker had been stationed at Pearl Harbor for part of his 36 years of duty and considered Chlapowski a hero for his service during the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian Islands.
Chlapowski had been a sailor on the USS Arizona until he was transferred to Adm. Husband Kimmel's staff as a radioman at the Pearl Harbor submarine base.
Just after he got off duty early on Dec. 7, 1941, he saw the roof of a Hickam Field hangar blown off and Japanese planes flying overhead. Running back to the radio shack, he sent out the message that the attack was under way and was not a drill.
Later, he would see smoke rise from the sinking Arizona, with many of his friends still on board. The painful memory of that sight never dimmed for him.
Over several decades of interviews with The Billings Gazette around anniversaries of the attack, Chlapowski expressed concern that the sacrifice of those who died that day would be forgotten.
Veterans attending the Laurel services remembered Chlapowski's support, too.
"Ed always came out to stand up for veterans," said Scott Stewart, a fellow member of Veterans of Foreign War Post 1634. "He was a nice man who will be missed."
Stewart's VFW post joined members of VFW Post 6774 to serve as the color guard at the burial. American Legion Post 4, of which Chlapowski also was a member, formed the honor guard.
As a chilly wind whipped across the cemetery, a volley of seven rifles rang out three times.
Burt Gigoux played taps on his cornet as Chlapowski had requested him to do.
Yeoman Second Class Terry Hunt and Engineering Aide Second Class Raymond Reeves folded the American flag after it was removed from Chlapowski's blue-gray casket. Retired Cmdr. Jim Forseth solemnly saluted the folded flag before presenting it to Chlapowski's family.
Hawaiian leis worn by most of the pallbearers brought a touch of the tropics to the service.
Although well-known for his World War II service, Chlapowski went on to a long life of other accomplishments. He and his wife, Betty, were married nearly 68 years and had seven children. His obituary in The Gazette noted his pride in his three sons and four daughters all graduating from college.
Chlapowski worked 34 years for the Federal Aviation Administration as an air traffic controller and served as a Billings City alderman for one term.