“ ... I had been training to be a shop teacher, so I figured I’d sign up for carpenter.” But the construction projects Tsangeos worked on in war were bigger than those completed in wood shop.
“We were combat engineers, and we went in before the infantry sometimes to open up roads so they could get by with their equipment.”
Building roads, runways and other wartime infrastructure was what Army T-4 John Tsangeos of North Canton did with the 1897th Aviation Engineers during World War II. Stationed in the Pacific Theater, the work often was done on land that was owned by the enemy.
“We weren’t front line troops, but there were times when we were in front of them. We used to call ourselves the suicide squad because we went in before everybody.”
The Steubenville native enlisted while he was going to Ohio University.
“I wanted to pick what I did. I’d worked with my uncle, who was a contractor and I had been training to be a shop teacher, so I figured I’d sign up for carpenter.”
But the construction projects Tsangeos worked on in war were bigger than those completed in wood shop. And when they weren’t leveling land for roads and runways, they were digging into it for their own safety from enemy shelling.
“I remember in Okinawa, they told us to dig a foxhole. I didn’t think twice,” Tsangeos recalled. “One time, we dug it so deep we needed a ladder to go down and get back out. We laughed about it later but I was scared. I prayed a lot. And when they told me to hit the foxhole, nobody had to tell me more than once.”
At times, the soldiers battled the enemy and the elements by creating surroundings that seemed normal.
“At night, to make ourselves feel better, sometimes we’d clean up and put on clean clothes because our clothes were so soiled from working in the field.”
It was through such techniques, Tsangeos said, that he survived the war — survived shelling that sometimes made the sky light up like fireworks.
“I came back. That’s the main thing,” he said. “I came back to the greatest country in the world.”
Tsangeos and his wife married in May of 1948. During their 65 years of marriage, they raised a daughter, Kathy Dieringer, who is married to Jim Dieringer. And they were blessed with two grandchildren, Johnathon and Steven.
After briefly managing his uncle’s shoeshine parlor on Market Avenue S, Tsangeos got into food service, operating restaurants on Cleveland and Market avenues in Canton. His last business was an L&K Restaurant he operated in Streetsboro.
Tsangeos finished his career by working for AVI food service, filling vending machines at McKinley High School until he retired at the age of 80.
He kept occupied over the years by playing table tennis, he said. “I did a lot of woodworking, too.”
Page 2 of 2 - There are vestiges of war that still tie him to his military service. These are vivid memories, and they linger.
“When I left, my dad gave me his cross,” said Tsangeos, reaching to touch the cross that still hangs around his neck. “He had his name on it in Greek. It’s over 100 years old. I wear it to this day, every day.
“My mother, she gave me a watch to wear. I told her, ‘Mom, what do I need to know the time for over there?’ ”
“She loved you,” Tsangeos’ wife explained. “She was a sweetheart. She was a good woman.”
“I held on to both of them,” Tsangeos said, talking about the gifts, but maybe thinking of the parents themselves. “I brought them back.”