For a boy growing up when baseball was king, the statistics were all important. And while Nick Chomicki was an impressive ball player in the Trenton area in his youth, his life stats are even more impressive, and the numbers say it all: nearly 36,500 days. 845,400 hours. 51,264,000 minutes. Those are the stats for the 99-year-old Hamilton resident, whose 100th birthday is in December. Lawrence Township will honor Chomicki, a World War II veteran, with a proclamation at its Veterans Day Remembrance Ceremony Nov. 5.
Only eight of every million Americans are male, a veteran and over the century mark. Statisticians use the term outlier to indicate a result that is well outside the range that is expected. Chomicki is an outlier, actively proving the statistics wrong. Just a month before his 100th birthday, he is full of life, moves around his house better than most people 20 years younger, and is looking forward to many more years.
Beginning his life in Trenton, Chomicki soon moved with his family to Eldridge Park, one of the first planned neighborhoods in Lawrence. Joining other newly prosperous immigrant families, his parents, Charles and Catherine, build the family home on Johnson Avenue at the western edge of Eldridge Park.
Charles Chomicki supported the family through the 20s and 30s as a handyman and as a farmer. Charles kept chickens and other animals on their land, farmed land near Eggerts Crossing Road and had a number of parcels between Baker’s Basin Road and Quakerbridge Road. The family had a small stand near their home on Johnson Road, where they sold surplus produce.
Chomicki recalls the feeling of living in the country as farms surrounded their new home, including a pig farm on nearby Drift Avenue which often advertised its presence, depending on the wind. He laughed as he recalled bootleggers selling their wares on Drift Avenue, too.
“The bootleggers used to come to Drive Avenue to a place where cinder blocks were made,” he said. “They brought five-gallon jugs of liquor to sell.”
He attended the then-new Eldridge Park School and was in the first class to enter Trenton High School. He fondly remembers his many hours riding the Trenton-Princeton Traction Company trolley, also called the Fast Line or Johnson Trolley, which ran along Johnson Avenue and took him to Trenton High and to church at Morris Hall in Lawrenceville.
Always tall for his age, “Big Nick,” as he was known in Lawrence in his teens, played soccer and baseball at school before catching the attention of coaches for the American Legion baseball program in the early 1930s. Big Nick was still a little young and it was late in the season when he first caught the eye of coach Pete Dileo in 1932.
“Pete Dileo wanted me to go with the Schroths, but it was too late to sign me,” Chomicki said. “The following year, I went to Trenton High and made the team then.”
Joining the team when he was 16, Chomicki and his fellow Schroths established themselves as a powerhouse in local ball before going on to represent New Jersey at the Eastern State American Legion Championship in Ohio the summer of 1933. They won the title, a feat Chomicki still takes pride in.
With that win, the Schroths moved on to New Orleans for the National Championship. With his 9-1 record on the mound that summer, Chomicki was chosen as the starting pitcher for the championship game, although he had to be pulled part way through the contest. The Schroths fell to a team from Chicago.
“I had an awful bad cold, and I started the game, but I didn’t hold out, and they had to pull me,” he said.
The next year, Chomicki graduated from Trenton High, which meant, of course, going to work. He gravitated to the trucking companies in Trenton, more important than ever to Trenton’s industrial output in the middle of the 30s since operations had ceased on the D&R Canal. Still playing baseball wherever he could, Chomicki’s days were spent in the billing and shipping offices of a couple of Trenton trucking companies until World War II came calling.
Chomicki was initially deferred from the war because he was not single, already having married Mary, with whom he spent 66 years before she died. By 1943, though, the Selective Service system changed its rules to include the call up of married men. Chomicki gladly stepped forward and served in the Navy. Off to boot camp in September 1943, he eventually found his way to a storekeeper (supply) job on DE638—the USS Willmarth—a brand new Buckley-class destroyer escort. Smaller than a standard destroyer, DE638 was one of many ships used for anti-submarine warfare and as escorts for convoys.
Almost all sailors had two jobs during the war: one during combat operations and another one at all other times. During combat or while standing watch in areas where the enemy might be encountered, Chomicki worked as a plane spotter, which he also describes as a gun director. Spotting enemy planes, estimating the range to the plane and keeping track of weather and a dozen other variables, the gun control team fed information to the men actually operating the weapons. Only the most rudimentary of mechanical computers existed on any Navy ships at the time, so skilled spotters and gun directors were critical to the success of a combat mission.
USS Willmarth saw duty in the Solomon Islands, Treasury Island and New Guinea shortly after arrival in the Pacific Theater. By October of 1944, Chomicki and his shipmates were at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, ready to support what is considered by many historians as the largest naval battle of WWII. Just before 7 p.m. on Oct. 24, USS Willmarth was attacked by three Japanese warplanes with little damage to the ship. Before dawn the next morning, Chomicki’s spotting skills would be on call again as two more warplanes attacked the ship, with gunfire from the USS Willmarth bringing down one plane.
Less than 12 hours later, the Willmarth was attacked again, this time by a lone dive bomber. The crew successfully downed the plane, which crashed into the sea. While making great quantities of smoke to screen other ships, Chomicki’s ship came under fire once more shortly before dawn on Oct. 26.
The Willmarth steamed through many areas of the Pacific during the next few months providing escort and screening for attacking forces. Chomicki’s last big excitement while a member of the Willmarth crew happened when the ship experienced a suicide bomber attack in April of 1945. The gunners successfully hit the plane, which crashed into the sea just 20 yards from the ship.
Chomicki’s Pacific duty ended on a Liberty ship, the USS Cybele, while anchored in Tokyo Bay where he rode out one of the many typhoons he experienced during his time at sea. He joined the USS Cybele in May 1945 in Galveston, Texas. Liberty ships were used to move supplies to the military around the world.
In 1948, Nick Chomicki built a house by hand. He still lives in the hamilton home today.
Returning to the United States and finally discharged in February of 1946, Chomicki came home to Mary and their life in the Lawrenceville area. By 1948, he adopted his father’s carpentry skills and built a home in Hamilton for Mary with help from his brother. He still lives in the house.
The couple started a family, too, with a son named Nick and their daughter Pat. Chomicki’s eyes light up when he talks about his granddaughter, Alexis, a senior at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Chomicki returned to office work after discharge by learning to use a comptometer, a mechanical machine that some consider as a bridge between an adding machine and a computer. Those trained to use this super adding machine were considered highly-skilled workers. Working for several companies in the area, Chomicki eventually turned to sales for a brick manufacturer whose products adorn many buildings in New Jersey. He liaised with architectural firms throughout the area to ensure the architects called for the right brick for each building.
Continuing to play baseball after the war, Chomicki also volunteered his talents with a variety of civic organizations including the Kiwanis, the VFW, and the American Legion. Still living in the home he built to this day, Chomicki said he is very proud of his children and grandchildren, as well as the honors he continues to amass.
The summer of 2011 found Nick throwing out the first pitch at an American Legion game in Hamilton and receiving a ceremonial jersey. May 2016 began with Nick being honored at a Trenton Thunder game during a military appreciation program and ended with his role as the Grand Marshal of the Lawrenceville Memorial Day Parade.
Nov. 5 will bring another honor as American Legion Post 414 in Lawrence will fete Chomicki as the last living player on the 1933 Trenton Schroths and for his military service in WWII. Proclamations are expected from NJ State Senator Shirley Turner, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the state Commander of the N.J. American Legion, Mercer County Freeholder Pat Colavita and Lawrence Township Council Member Jim Kownacki.