Like many of the residents at Amerisist of Warrenton, John
Sekelsky has lots of stories to tell. Visitors to the
assisted living facility can hear about his World War II
missions and see the artwork he painted featuring the planes
he flew in. They can hear of his years as "Johnny Silk,"
semi-professional accordion player, and listen to him tickle
His story began a long way from Warrenton, in the town of
Punxsutawney, Pa. Sekelsky was born in the hometown of the
famous groundhog in 1923, but for most of his childhood he
lived in Cleveland. His family attended Nativity of the
Blessed Virgin Mary Church, a large Catholic community
founded by Slovak immigrants. He attended the parish school
and served as an altar boy. It was there his love of the
One of the teachers, Sister Anastasia, played the organ but
wanted to start an accordion band. Around 50 of the students
signed up, and a man from town came to give them instruction,
A few years later, Sekelsky was in a nearby park, ice skating
and playing the accordion, when he found out that World War
II had started. Sekelsky worked for Parker Appliance during
the early part of the war making technical illustrations for
aircraft parts. In 1943, he was drafted by the U.S. Army but
then transferred into the Air Corps, the precursor to the Air
He was trained as a radio operator in Mount Rushmore, S.D.,
and was sent to an air base in England with the title "radio
operator/ mechanic/ gunner."
During the war, Sekelsky served with the same group of men.
They named their B-17 aircraft "Miss Memorial." Their first
mission was to bomb Berlin, but as Sekelsky put it, "I bombed
While flying in a mission over Berlin, the Germans fired on
Miss Memorial, blowing out one of its engines. The pilot flew
the plane over the water as Sekelsky radioed an air field in
Brussels, Belgium, that allowed them to land.
"When we landed in Brussels, all the kids ran up to my
airplane and they wanted cigarettes for mama and papa," said
Sekelsky. "Kids used to stop on all of the runways, (and ask)
'Got any gum, chum?' "
After completing his missions, Sekelsky continued flying to
teach others how to operate the radio on B-29 aircrafts.
The veteran's life was more than his participation in World
War II. Sekelsky studied music and art at the Cleveland
School of Art. After the war he lived in Croton-on-Hudson,
N.Y., for many years. He worked as a commercial artist, using
an airbrush to retouch photographs for catalogs and
advertising. Each day he commuted by train into his art
studio in Manhattan.
A friend introduced him to a visiting nurse from Troon,
Scotland, named Elizabeth "Elsie" Hamilton. The two were
married at his home parish of Nativity. John and Elsie had
five children - four boys and one girl. The family attended
Holy Name of Mary Church, where Sekelsky was active in the
Knights of Columbus.
World War II veteran John Sekelsky spends most of his
days playing the accordion and organ, but 70 years ago "I
bombed Hitler." Read the remarkable story of "Johnny Silk"
and his wartime missions over Berlin in this week's
Catholic Herald. http://bit.ly/1SPEGYSPosted by Arlington
Catholic Herald on Wednesday, April 6, 2016
His love of the accordion continued. In his spare time,
Sekelsky played the instrument at weddings and other parties
as "Johnny Silk." Sekelsky said he knows how to play 4,000
"I always played the accordion," said Sekelsky. "I'm still
Pictures in his room of WWII bombers, an aerial view of
Croton-on-Hudson and a wedding anniversary photo of his late
wife serve as reminders of his storied past. Holy cards from
St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton are tucked into
the frames of a few.
Attending weekly Bible study and Mass has kept Sekelsky's
faith - forged in the now closed Slovak parish in Cleveland -
Di Mauro can be reached at email@example.com or on