John S. Zale, a decorated Army veteran, former prisoner of war and retired carpenter, died unexpectedly Sunday in his North Tonawanda home. He was 90.
Born John Zubrzycki in Lackawanna and raised there, Mr. Zale went to Lackawanna schools until the eighth grade, when he took a job with a painter so his family had one less mouth to feed at home.
At 18, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed with the 31st Infantry Regiment in the Philippines, where he was severely wounded during the early stages of World War II.
Following surgery at a field aid station, Mr. Zale returned to his unit and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in charge of 64 soldiers.
He was among the American forces to be captured by the Japanese, then survive the Bataan Death March. He spent more than three years as a POW until the end of the war.
For his service, Mr. Zale was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge and Purple Heart.
"He was a very resourceful person," said his son, Allen. "He didn't have the education, but if you were in a fight or a tough situation, he was the kind of guy you wanted on your side. I wouldn't want to mess with him -- right up until the end."
He returned home to Lackawanna, married Stella M. Antonik and shortened the family's last name from Zubrzycki to Zale.
Mr. Zale worked at Bethlehem Steel for a couple of years before getting a job with the Department of Defense at the Army Support Center in Niagara Falls, where he was a carpenter and general maintenance man for 30 years. He retired in 1980.
Mr. Zale was a scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 192 in North Tonawanda during the 1960s and for many years volunteered at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo.
He enjoyed spending time at the rustic cabin he built on property he owned in the Southern Tier.
His wife, Stella, died in 1995, after 49 years of marriage.
Besides his son, Allen, Mr. Zale is survived by a daughter, Karen Skochin, and a brother, Marion Zubrzycki.
A service will be at 10 a.m. Friday in Amigone Funeral Home, 2600 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda.