on May 22, 2013 - 9:52 PM
July 25, 1918 – April 1, 2013
They thought they might be going for some kind of luxury cruise. Instead, they went for a cramped ride to their top-secret mission, heading to North Africa to help repair damaged British aircraft during World War II.
Henry J. Sapecky was on that mission, Project 19, a hush-hush initiative requested by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It sent Mr. Sapecky and others to North Africa for 18 months to help Britain’s Royal Air Force keep its planes in the air to fight Germany.
“It was the best time of my life, a terrific adventure,” Mr. Sapecky told The Buffalo News in a 2001 interview. “I’d do it again tomorrow.”
Mr. Sapecky, a retired businessman also known for his wry sense of humor, died April 1 in Cape Coral, Fla., family members said. He was 94.
Back in March 1941, he was 22 years old, working at the Curtiss-Wright Corp. factory in Cheektowaga, building fighter planes, when rumors began circulating about a secret mission, then known as the “XYZ Affair,” later code-named Project 19.
About 70 men from the Cheektowaga plant signed up and went to Newark, N.J., where they built and maintained planes bound for Russia.
A few months after Pearl Harbor, in April 1942, they were told they were going on a cruise.
The Buffalo lads pictured deck chairs and shuffleboard; instead, their new home was a World War I troop ship built to carry 400 men, but packed with 800. Their “cruise” included two meals a day and occasional showers, with salt water.
A Buffalo native, Mr. Sapecky graduated from Annunciation High School and attended the University of Buffalo.
After returning from Africa, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. Stationed on Johnson Island in the Pacific, he worked on planes and co-piloted radar planes.
In 1957, he and a childhood friend started a sales distributorship, Bowser & Sapecky Associates, representing companies whose electronic parts were sold to big companies, including General Electric and IBM.
As a young man, Mr. Sapecky rowed in an eight-man crew at the West Side Rowing Club, competing at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.
He enjoyed tennis, boating, fishing, skiing and golf, once notching a hole in one in Florida.
Mr. Sapecky and his wife, the former Rose Ranallo, a history and English teacher, were married for more than 65 years.
They moved to Cape Coral full time in the 1990s. They enjoyed entertaining and traveling.
Besides his wife, Mr. Sapecky is survived by a daughter, Sally Lenahan.
A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. June 8 in Amigone Funeral Home, 1132 Delaware Ave.