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Frank Lashinsky (middle) stands with members of the Pentagon Department of Missing Personnel, which searches for U.S. servicemen still missing in action.
Before he began his 31-year career at Pfizer, retiree Frank Lashinsky had already lived a lifetime.
During WWII he was a member of 455th Bomb Group, and he survived twenty five missions and the loss of four B-24 bombers. On March 12, 1945, on his 25th and last mission, Frank and his crew bailed out from their crippled B-24, ending up behind enemy lines. He and five of crew members were captured, and spent seven weeks as prisoners of war, transported by train and by foot through Germany as hostages of the retreating German army. On April 24, 1945, he was one of 27,000 prisoners freed by General Patton’s army.
“The war experience shaped my whole life,” said Frank. “I had gone through so many close calls. I felt I was being saved for a purpose. I felt that I wanted to get into something to benefit humanity.”
That desire stayed with him during the years he spent in college following his discharge. When the time came to consider where he wanted to work after graduation, he thought of Pfizer and its focus on helping others through medicines. Pfizer had been part of his childhood. As a young boy in Mahanoy City, Pa., he worked at the soda bottling plant behind his house, handling bottles of citric acid manufactured by Pfizer.
He applied to Pfizer, but a job with Glidden came through first and he took it. However, Pfizer remained on his mind. When Glidden moved its New York operations to Kentucky in 1956, Frank stayed in New York, applied for a job at Pfizer and was accepted.
For his first 11 years at Pfizer, Frank worked at Pfizer’s Brooklyn plant supervising the production of vitamin C, Terramycin, Polymixin, Neomycin, and various other fine chemicals. He then transferred to Groton where he supervised production of many antibiotics and other products. He scaled up operating procedures and safety instructions for products newly developed in Research and the pilot plant facility.
Talking about the work, the people, and the whole atmosphere at Pfizer conjures up fond memories for him. “The work was very interesting. There was always something new to learn,” he said. “And everyone knew each other. At Brooklyn, staff members were encouraged to use the dining room. Each person was given a napkin ring with a number on it. You had to go sit wherever your number was. You got to know people in different areas of the business.”
He also liked the fact that the company encouraged employees to help them to help others. “When I first started with Pfizer, they recommended that employees traveling on vacation take a soil sampling kit with them to sample the soil in the area they were visiting. Pfizer later screened the samples for antibiotic properties in organisms found in the soil."
Frank Lashinsky holds a section from the wing of his downed WWII B-24 bomber.
During his years at Pfizer and after his retirement in 1986, Frank channeled his desire to help others into local actions. He and his wife adopted three children, two of whom came from Italy. Frank said the adoptions were a small way of acknowledging the good fortune that had helped him and his crew survive the many hazards he experienced. For the past 20 years he and his wife, Dorothy, have volunteered at the local veteran’s administration hospital. Frank also has served as a member of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society, the Advisory Council for Hollidaysburg Veterans Home in Pennsylvania, and as the State Commander for American Ex-Prisoners of War within the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
Six years ago, in January 2004, Frank received a chance to close the loop on one part of his war experience when he received a call from the Pentagon. They had reopened the search for one of his 455th bomb crew members who was still listed as missing in action. The call led to an interview with a Pentagon officer and an invitation to return to Gordisa, Hungary, the site where the bomb group's last B-24 had crashed.
“I was curious about what happened to the plane. I wanted to see what the area looked like and see the people who lived there,” he said. Frank became a mini-celebrity in Gordisa, doing TV and radio interviews and meeting the mayor of the town. He also met two men who, as boys, had witnessed the crash, and he met the family who had kept pieces of the plane.
As a memento of his final mission, Frank was given a three-foot section of the B-24’s wing. He keeps it in his garage and takes it to show when he speaks at schools or veteran’s events.
Frank said he felt a sense of satisfaction in making that trip to the past. Satisfied, and perhaps grateful that he had been saved to do what he could to benefit humanity.