The Laskay Boys – World War II

Part of the Historical Society of Easton’s series “Easton in the Service.”

Prior to 1917, there had only been two acts passed by congress during the entire history of the United States that regulated immigration: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barring Chinese immigrants from entering the United States, and the Immigration Act of 1891 that barred the immigration of polygamists, people convicted of certain crimes, and the sick or diseased. The latter legislation also created a federal office of immigration to coordinate immigration enforcement and a corps of immigration inspectors stationed at major ports of entry. Other than the restrictions placed on immigration under those two acts, any free white person of “good character,” who had lived in the United States for two years or longer could apply for citizenship. No paperwork – no tests required.

For anyone emigrating from Europe, the United States was a good place to begin a new life.

Károly (Charles) Laskai (Laskay) was born on January 25, 1891 in Buj, Hungary. Leaving his parents and brothers behind, and seeking work, he came alone to America in 1907 at the age of 16. First settling in Hudson, New York, Charles worked as a carpenter on the New York Central Railroad. After several years in New York State, he moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut where work in the building trades was abundant as the city’s industries were rapidly expanding – requiring larger factories and additional housing for employees.

Borbala (Bessie) Terhes was born on December 4, 1896, also in Buj, Hungary. Although it is a small village, Charles and Bessie never knew each other prior to coming to America. Bessie departed Bremen, Germany on December 6, 1913, just three days after turning 17 years of age. Her destination was Bridgeport, Connecticut where she would take up residence with her older sister Julia. She arrived in America on December 18, 1913 after traveling alone on the steamship “Bremen’’. She studied English at night while working doing piecework in Bridgeport during the years leading up to the First World War.

Charlie and Bessie met at a New Year’s Eve dance in 1915 at Radocozy Hall in Bridgeport. They were married less than 3 months later on March 4, 1916 at the Hungarian Evangelical and Reformed Church in Bridgeport. Like many of the immigrant families from Hungary, the young couple settled in Bridgeport’s West End, living at 297 Spruce Street just before the United States joined the fight during the First World War.

Charles & Bessie Laskay March 4, 1916

Their first son, Charles, Jr. was born on December 8, 1917. In 1918, the family moved from Spruce Street in Bridgeport to Wilson Road in Fairfield. During the winter of 1920, the Laskays purchased the Moses Oysterbanks’ homestead on Center Road in Easton. Built circa 1765, it remains one of the oldest homes in the original parish of North Fairfield. On February 20, 1920, with young Charlie and 7-month old brother Anthony (Tony) bundled up in their horse-drawn wagon, they began the move to their new home on Center Road in Easton. This proved to be an arduous trip as a late winter snowstorm made traveling up Sport Hill Road rather difficult. Luckily, Charlie was able to elicit the aid of Martin Steucek of Westport Road who helped move the family the remainder of the way with his horse and sleigh.

The Laskay’s Easton farm had cows, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese, and rabbits along with vegetables, and flowers. There they would raise five more children – all girls. Grace was born in 1922, Ethel (Swanson) in 1926, Lillian (Kocsis) in 1927, Margaret in 1929, and Dorothy (D’Amato) in 1931.

Like so many of the hardworking eastern Europeans who had emigrated to America during the latter years of the 19th century or the first few years of the 20th, the Laskays valued the opportunity to have their children obtain a good education. While Easton still lacked its own high school, both Charles Jr. and his brother Tony made the daily trek to Bridgeport to complete all four years of high school – somewhat of a rarity during the waning years of the Great Depression when most families could have used the extra income two young men could have brought home had they been employed. Charles graduated from Bassick in 1937 and Tony followed in his footsteps in 1939.

Charles Nicholas Laskay Jr. 1937
Anthony Louis Laskay 1939

Charles and Bessie lived a good life in Easton, enjoying raising their seven children as well as continuing to farm their land. Showing an extraordinary commitment to family, the elder Laskays divided their farm into several parcels of land, giving each of their children a lot onto which they could build their own home. Charlie continued his work as a carpenter, eventually becoming the project supervisor for the Mac Darlan Construction Company of Bridgeport that developed the land around the old Samp Mortar Reservoir in Fairfield.

Charles Laskay Sr. passed away in February of 1973, and Bessie on April 22, 1993. They enjoyed 57 years together. They are interred at Union Cemetery.

Charles Nicholas Laskay

As the United States inched closer to joining the fray in Europe, congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act on September 16, 1940. It required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft. It was the first peacetime conscription in the history of the United States.

But peace wouldn’t last much longer.

On Wednesday, October 16, 1940 – exactly one month to the day after the Selective Service Act had been enacted, brothers Charles and Tony appeared before the registrar of Local Board 25A at the Fairfield Town Hall to register for the draft.

Charles Laskay Draft Registration Card October 16, 1940

Charles was the first to be called to duty on November 18, 1941, just three weeks before the United States would be forced to enter the war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He reported for duty at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. He was assigned to the Army Air Corps and after completing his basic training, the Army put his civilian skills as a carpenter to use during the construction of the Army Air Corps 29th Training Wing at Moody Field in Lowndes County Georgia beginning in February of 1942.

The entire project would require the construction of a total of 349 buildings consisting of: 72 barracks, 21 operations rooms, 17 day rooms, 16 administrative buildings, 16 supply rooms, 8 officers’ quarters, 7 mess halls, 6 warehouses, six maintenance shops, 3 link trainer buildings, 2 school buildings, 3 radio unit buildings, 2 officers’ day rooms, 2 recreation buildings, 2 post exchanges, 2 gasoline storage units, a utility shop, a commissary, an incinerator, a bomb training building, a fire station, a motor repair shop, a telephone and telegraph unit, a theater, a bomb sight storage building, a parachute packing facility, a 170-bed hospital, an officers’ club, a chapel, a guard house and a total of 4 runways.

The Moody project was completed by the end of June of 1942. Upon completion of the training facilities in Georgia, Charles was promoted to temporary Sergeant and subsequently transferred to Emison Field in Vincennes. Indiana, one of 4 auxiliary or satellite airfields of George Field in Lawrenceville, Illinois. The mission of George Field was to provide advanced training to pilots of twin-engine aircraft. Construction there began in late June of 1942.

It was in Vincennes that Charles would meet a 17-year old girl who worked at the PX and who made “the world’s best cherry milkshakes.” Her name was Melba Rae Oexmann. They would eventually marry on December 23, 1945, just 9 days after Charles was honorably discharged from duty at Chanute Field in Illinois.

After a 27-month stint in construction, much of it at Emison Field where he would work with post engineers doing minor alterations and maintenance once the airfield facilities were completed in late 1942, Charles was transferred to Blytheville Airfield in Arkansas in early 1944. There he would begin a new career in the military, first as an engine mechanic and then as a propeller mechanic. After attending training school in California in May of 1945 he qualified to perform advanced 1st and 2nd echelon maintenance on B-25 aircraft.

Sergeant Charles N. Laskay Jr. March 1944

Transferring one final time to Chanute Field in Illinois, Charles trained to qualify as a propeller mechanic on C-45, C-46, C-47, AT-6 and UC-78 aircraft.

On December 14, 1945, Charles was discharged from the service and headed directly to Vincennes to marry Melba. The two would then drive to Easton in a raging snowstorm to begin their new life together. Charles would build their home on Laskay Drive where they would raise their 3 children, Robert, Charlene, and Caren.

Charles and Melba Laskay December 23, 1945

Charles worked for Henry and Garrity Construction of Fairfield as a member of the Connecticut Carpenters Union 210.

In Easton, he served as fire chief for the Easton Volunteer Fire Department and belonged to the Fairfield County and State Fire Chief Association. He was a lifetime member of the Easton Fire Commission and a member, as well as the president of the Easton EMS. Charles was also a member and commander of the American Legion Post 160 in Easton. He served on the Easton Town Republican Committee and was a charter member of the Historical Society of Easton. Charles was also a 25-year member of the Ashlar-Aspetuck Masonic Lodge 142 A.F.& A.M. of Easton.

Charles N. Laskay Jr. died on February 16, 2006. Melba passed away on August 2, 2015.

Anthony Louis Laskay

Harriet Louise Stone had been in Anthony Laskay’s senior class at Bassick in 1939, but the two hadn’t really gotten to know one another until after graduation. By 1941, they were dating. When Tony received his invitation to serve in President Roosevelt’s army in early 1942, the young couple quickly decided to marry before Tony left for the service. They wed on Sunday, March 15, 1942 at the Congregational Church in Easton. Ten days later, on March 25, Tony entered the Army in Hartford.

Service records for Tony’s time in the military are scarce. Like his older brother, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps. Prior to the war, he had listed his employer as Franklin Hubbell, superintendent of the Aspetuck Watershed for the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company, yet his enlistment papers show his civilian occupation in the category of “Semiskilled filers, grinders, buffers, and polishers (metal)”, suggesting he may have worked in another field just prior to being drafted.

Anthony Louis Laskay Draft Registration Card October 16, 1940

At some point – likely in late 1942 or early1943 – it appears he was assigned to the same airfield as his brother Charles. Photos show the two men together in front of one of the barracks and another of the two brothers with Charles’ girlfriend Melba.

Charles, Melba, & Tony c.1942
Charles & Tony c.1942

Later, Tony was stationed at Sheppard Field in Texas. Beginning operations in 1942, Sheppard’s Aircraft and Mechanic School graduated 200 student mechanics every two weeks after completion of a 22-week course in aircraft maintenance. That number was subsequently increased to 1,600 – for a total of some 40,000 mechanics per year due to the increased demand as the war progressed.

Sheppards Field Texas

Tony suffered from chronic gastrointestinal pains throughout late 1944 and into 1945,  several that required hospital stays, including at least one at the Sheppard Field facility. In June of 1945, he was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer of the Duodenum and was given a medical discharge in July of that year.

Tony returned to Connecticut where he worked as a carpenter, living with Harriet on North Avenue in Bridgeport for a short time before beginning construction of the first house on Laskay Drive on the lot that his parents had given him. While the house was being built, he and Harriet lived in the family homestead with his parents. After the house was completed, he and Harriet moved in and lived there until their passing in 1996. There they also raised their two children Bruce and Cynthia.

Tony served his hometown well after the war. At one point, he worked as a union carpenter alongside his father and brother during the development of the Samp Mortar residential neighborhood in Fairfield. While he continued his professional career as a carpenter, he also volunteered as an ambulance driver and was among the first members of the town’s ambulance association to complete the training and pass the test to become a certified EMT. He also worked in maintenance at both the town hall and Joel Barlow. He was a member of the American Legion Post 160 and also served as an usher at the Congregational Church where he and Harriet had been married. Harriet and Tony Laskay died exactly one month apart in 1996. She on January 11, and he on February 11, 1996. They are both interred at Union Cemetery.

As we continue to document the service histories of some of Easton’s residents, we would like to thank members of their families for contributing photographs, documents, and personal stories about their relatives. All the information being collected will go into our files for future generations of Easton history scholars to study.

We feel that it is vitally important to record these stories now, before they are lost forever. Piecing together these puzzles is sometimes tedious, but always rewarding work. Using several subscription-based services along with the information we get from family members allows us to form a narrative that brings history to life.

Coming soon: The Nagy Brothers