Leo Francis Dudek, mechanical engineer and veteran, dies

Longtime Martin Marietta Corp. engineer's career dated to the early days of U.S. space program

  • Leo Dudek
Leo Dudek
May 13, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Leo Francis Dudek, a retired mechanical engineer and decorated World War II veteran who was active with the Catholic War Veterans of America, died Sunday of pulmonary fibrosis at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The longtime Dundalk resident was 85.

Leo Francis Dudek, the son of a crane operator and a cannery worker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Canton.

After graduating from Patterson High School in 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Stationed at Tinian, in the Mariana Islands, where he served with the 24th Bomb Squadron, 6th Bomb Group.

Mr. Dudek was an electric mechanic and an aerial gunner aboard the Bataan Avenger, a B-29 Superfortress, a heavy bomber, and successfully completed 28 missions over Japan and various South Pacific islands.

"During one such mission on March 13, 1945, his plane flipped over on its back after being hit by a thermal over Osaka, and the crew barely avoided disaster," said his daughter, Dr. Caroline Dudek Weeks, a chemist who lives in Herndon, Va.

"Also, while on Tinian, he witnessed the take-off of the Enola Gay as it carried the atomic bomb on its way to Hiroshima, Japan," his daughter said.

Mr. Dudek was discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in 1945, and his decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with two Bronze Clusters.

After the war, he was a sheet metal worker for Trans World Airlines, and in 1948, went to work for the Baltimore Signal Corp.

From 1953 until 1973, he worked as a design engineer in the electronics and missiles program at Martin Marietta Corp. in Middle River.

"In the late 1950s, he was on Martin's team working in Florida at Cape Canaveral, now the Kennedy Space Center, on manned and unmanned launches," said Dr. Weeks. "In the early 1970s, he was sent to the Mojave Desert to help develop drone aircraft."

He left Martin Marietta in 1973 when he was hired by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. as a design engineer for electric substations and later was promoted as supervisor of quality assurance engineering at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland.

Mr. Dudek earned a bachelor's degree in engineering in 1978 from the Johns Hopkins University.

"It was said at his retirement ceremony in 1992 that he was one of the best engineers who had ever worked for BGE," his daughter said.

For years, Mr. Dudek had been an active member of the Catholic War Veterans of the United States of America Inc., St. Casimir Post 1764, where he had been treasurer, director and a trustee.

At his death, he was first vice chair for the state Catholic war veterans organization, and three years ago, had been named "Man of the Year" by the St. Casimir Post.

"He always did a lot of work for the organization. He was my right-hand man," said John Jarosinski, who has been state commander of the Catholic War Veterans of the United States of America Inc. since 1999.

"We had everything set up for him to be state commander and at our meeting, we will put in a resolution naming him commander posthumously. We intend to do that," said Mr. Jarosinski. "He did so much. He handled our Masses and banquets. He did a lot of work and did a good job of it."

Joseph Zarachowicz is an old friend and commander of the St. Casimir Post.

"He was a great man and we'd have long conversations at night on the phone about what had to be done," recalled Mr. Zarachowicz. "Everyone liked him, … and the Catholic War Veterans will really miss him."

He added: "Leo could be shy at times, especially when it came to discussing the war or anything about himself."

Mr. Dudek was also a member of Dundalk Post 38 of the American Legion. He was an avid duckpin bowler and was the oldest and longest member of the St. Casimir Bowling League, which bowls at Pinland Lanes in Dundalk.

He was a lifelong communicant of St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church and after his retirement became an active member. He was a member of the Holy Name Society.

Mr. Dudek, who began building Christmas gardens in his youth, was an avid collector of Lionel O-gauge trains and had a large layout in his home.

"He even built the mountains that had snow on them," his daughter said.

Dr. Weeks said her father was active two weeks before his death, and was still cutting an acre of grass around his home and handling gardening chores.

"He accomplished much in his life, but his memory will live most in the hearts and lives he touched with his kind and generous spirit," she said. "He was delighted to help others and he seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of most every subject — from auto mechanics to house repairs to mathematical concepts."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday at his church, 2736 O'Donnell St., Canton.

Also surviving are his wife of 59 years, the former Mary Moniewska; a brother, the Rev. Berard Dudek, a Franciscan priest, of Rosedale; and two grandsons.


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