Anthony Steven "Tony" Zyna, a retired National Brewing Co. mechanic and member of the merchant marine who was sent to a Soviet concentration camp during World War II, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease June 18 at Gilchrist Hospice Care. He was 88 and lived in Cockeysville.
Born Anthony Zinowski in New Britain, Conn., and raised in New Haven, he left his home at 14 and later joined the Navy. A medical disability — a punctured eardrum — forced him to leave the service and he then joined the merchant marine during World War II. He served aboard the Liberty Ship Barbara Frietchie, as well as the Glenpool and the Paoli. He was a messman, assistant cook and seaman. He sailed in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean.
On his final trip, he made the treacherous run to Murmansk, a city in the Soviet Union that was an important supply port for the Russian front. He and his fellow crew members were part of a merchant ship convoy that went through the Barents Sea aboard slow-moving Allied cargo ships subject to attack by German aircraft and submarines. Convoys on what became known as the Murmansk Run negotiated poor sailing conditions and cold water as they delivered tractors, locomotives, jeeps, explosives, trucks and other war materiel to the Eastern Front.
Mr. Zyna landed safely in the Soviet Union, but then his troubles began. He ran afoul of local authorities when he took a picture in a place where photos were not permitted. He got into a fight with the police arresting him, and a panel of three judges sentenced him to a concentration camp. His ship captain, under orders to sail on a fixed date, left him behind. He spent six months in the camp and was held another 18 months as a "guest." He told family members he slept on boards and made shoes out of old tires.
"My father was amazing at making lemonade out of lemons. In the Russian concentration camp, he befriended the guards and learned to speak fluent Russian," said his daughter, Treva L. Zyna of Parkton. "He never forgot the language and spoke loudly in Russian in Ocean City restaurants and food stores just to see who would answer him."
He was finally sent home in 1946. That year, while at a dance at the old United Seamen's Club on Charles Street, he met his future wife, the former Ruth Sudhalter. "He told me that he'd met a Gypsy in the camp and he had learned to tell fortunes. I thought he had mystic powers," said his wife of 61 years.
Mr. Zyna took a job at the National Brewing Co. in Highlandtown and he washed beer bottles, among other duties. A mechanic who also ran the tow motor, he retired from what became Carling National Brewery.
In 1992, he was among veterans who gathered at the Dundalk Marine Terminal for a ceremony where he received a Russian commemorative medal for his participation in the convoy to Murmansk. Russian ambassador Vladimir Lukin greeted Mr. Zyna and handed him the medal as they stood aboard the Liberty Ship John W. Brown. At the event, he was also reunited with a shipmate.
Family members said Mr. Zyna became known as the candy man in northern Baltimore County.
"There wasn't a food store, doctor's office, hospital where he didn't dole out his candy packs," said his daughter. She said her father bought candy in bulk and then bagged it in smaller amounts that he handed out to clerks at grocery stores and to medical personnel at hospitals and doctor's offices.
He also never gave up his cooking and prepared his family's meals.
Services were held Tuesday at the Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Garrison Forest.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, Ron M. Zyna of Pikesville; and two grandchildren. A son, Brian D. Zyna, died in 2000.
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