After the war, Chester Rybarczyk returned to Toledo, Ohio where he and wife, Bernadette, raised four children. For a time, he drove a city bus. On July 16, 1952, he was accepted into the Toledo Fire Department and assigned badge #109. On March 9, 1964, Chester was promoted to Lieutenant.
Chester’s son, Tony, remembers that his father was very proud of being on the fire department. He enjoyed the camaraderie with the other firefighters and he would often take his children to watch them train, or he would arrange demonstrations for their schools. At the end of his shift, he would come home and tell them stories about things that happened that day.
On September 2, 1967, the Toledo Fire Department Rescue Squad responded to a two-alarm fire at a local north side tavern, Pee Wee’s Inn, at 5101 Suder Avenue.
Lieutenant Chester Rybarczyk, now a fifteen-year veteran with the Toledo Fire Department, was one of the firefighters who entered the building to fight the fire. Suddenly, conditions inside the building changed and the rescue squad attempted to evacuate the structure.
Four firefighters became trapped behind a partition separating the bar from a game room. Two of the four men made it out while Chester and another firefighter, James Martin, remained trapped. Crews on the outside used a ladder in a rescue attempt through a window. They were able to pull James out first, saving him. With James safe, they began to pull an unconscious Chester, overcome by smoke, out of the same window. The fireman that had a hold of Chester’s arm stepped on a power line that had fallen on the ladder. When the shock of electricity hit him, he lost his grip and Chester fell back into the burning room. Chester was finally removed from the building, but he died shortly afterward at Riverside Hospital. The other three managed to escape with only minor injuries.
Chester’s son, Tony, was only eight years old when his father died. His mother, Bernadette, was able to tell him a bit about his father’s WWII experiences in the 384th Bombardment Group. She said that Chester did see his original crew, the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th bomb squadron, go down after a mid-air collision on September 28, 1944, but he didn’t talk much about it.
Chester was the navigator on the Buslee crew, but was assigned to fly with a different crew that day. As a result, he was fortunate to not be involved in the mid-air collision. Instead, he was a witness to the fiery descent of the plane in which most of his Buslee crewmates were killed, unable to abandon the burning aircraft after it had broken into two pieces and spiraled toward the ground.
A fellow Buslee crew member, bombardier James Davis, was also assigned to fly with a different crew that day. Chester and James served many of their remaining missions together. James finished his tour a few weeks before Chester in December 1944 and both returned home to the states. Chester and James remained friends after the war. After he got older, Tony was able to contact James, and James was able to tell Tony about his father, so that he could know him a little better. James died in 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Chester Rybarczyk was born Jan 18, 1923 and died Sept 2, 1967 at the age of 44. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio, Grave: S 1/2, Lot 21, Section 34. Chester’s widow, Berandette, died in 1986 and is buried beside him.
Thank you to Tony Rybarczyk, Chester’s son, for sharing this piece of his family history.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014