Bridgeport neighborhood life keeps longtime VFW member, 87, going

Categories: Chicago Tribune

Anthony Judycki keeps VFW post on smooth track

| Special to the Chicago Tribune

No bar in Chicago is as tidy and pleasantly lit as the one where Anthony Judycki sits.

“Here’s the guy you need to talk to,” the bartender says.

“The father of this bar,” chimes in a patron.

Judycki is senior vice commander of a VFW, according to a wooden plaque on a back wall. His framed portrait at age 21 hangs nearby. An LED display flashes a nickname he’s answered to for more than eight decades: Pokie.

“I got that back in grammar school,” he says. “A nun gave me that.”

At 87, Judycki has earned his status at Bridgeport VFW Post 5079. In one soft-spoken person is a monument to U.S., Chicago and neighborhood history.

“There I am,” he says, pointing to his name on the post’s charter, dated Feb. 2, 1946.

Judycki was one of 90 neighborhood kids who came home after fighting overseas during World War II. Together they transformed a corner tavern into a private social club for people like themselves who collectively shared experiences others might respect but may never understand.

Of that original crew, Judycki is among four alive. His legacy is this hall, located on the southwest corner of May and 32nd Streets.

“I’m proud of it,” he says.

A meeting room doubles for parties; a back room features trophies from softball and bowling leagues, portraits of past hall commanders and tributes to fallen veterans.

The front room is reserved for everyday life. Valentine’s Day decorations neatly line the ceiling. Elvis and Sinatra croon from the jukebox. Long before those songs were recorded, Judycki spent 33 months in Algeria and Tunisia as a medic, following the troops and administering care in makeshift field hospitals.

“Toughest thing I seen was a young kid, 17, 18 years old. Looks like a little baby. He had syphilis,” he says. “I was crying.”

Two days after his return to Bridgeport in 1945, Judycki was hired at the stockyards to measure hundreds of pounds of pork on a scale on the production line. When the stockyards closed nine years later and were subsequently dismantled, he got a laborer job with the city and never looked back.

His life is centered on the pancake breakfasts, benefits, meetings and dances inside this corner hall.

Membership in the post is falling. Almost 400 veterans were registered at its height; today, there are about 160. Only two are from the Persian Gulf War; none from the current Iraq War. Judycki says he hasn’t “the slightest idea” why.

He is a man who understands the past because he lives near it: Nearby Carpenter Street was once nicknamed “Incubator Avenue” because of all the large families living there (including his own: Judycki is one of 10 siblings). Down the street, the bells still chime at St. Mary of Perpetual Help, where the nun christened him Pokie.

“I just liked it,” he says of a life lived in Bridgeport. “It grows in you.”

Every night he walks to the hall from his home across the street, where he lives alone. Inside, he mingles with fellow veterans, sips cranberry juice and, each Friday, allows himself a glass of cognac on the rocks.

It’s the kind of routine that after decades might seem resolute. But just last week, he opened himself to change.

“I thought about it, and I’d like to go [back to Africa] and see what it’s like,” he says. “That would bring memories to me.”

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