A salute to these lifelong friends
During Veterans Day celebrations, a ceremony was held for Bob “Wabsy” Chromiak and Dick “Mac” MacLaughlin, who officially retired from the Catasauqua American Legion Post 215 Honor Guard.
“I knew something was up when my family members showed up,” MacLaughlin said.
The award is the latest in the line of coincidences with these lifelong friends. They met when they were 10 years old and live within a block of each other 75 years later.
Both are Korean War-era vets. MacLaughlin served with the U.S. Marine Corps. Chromiak was with a MASH unit around Chipyong-ni. MacLaughlin joined first.
“I wrote to him when he was moving around, and then I went into the Army,” Chromiak said.
MacLaughlin served around the world, with stints in the Arctic, Greece, Turkey and the Mediterranean.
“Some of the swells we went through on the Arctic were just scary,” MacLaughlin said.
After being in the service, they both found their way back to Catasauqua Borough. Both went on to be teachers, one graduating from Muhlenberg College, the other from East Stroudsburg University. MacLaughlin taught in the Catasauqua Area School District and Chromiak in the Bethlehem Area School District.
When they reminisce about growing up in Catasauqua, they have fond memories. Their high school graduating class was 1948. They were active in the community in high school, and their involvement has not diminished.
Skip the dry textbooks and detailed history of Catasauqua. Instead, buy Wabsy and Mac a couple of beers and let them tell their stories.
It is a generally conceded fact that Chromiak is the instigator of most practical jokes.
Pushing into their ninth decade, the two have a lot of Catasauqua history.
“We walked to the high school prom, and people came out of their houses to watch us,” MacLaughlin said. “I think it was a closer community when we were growing up.”
They actively followed college football and have many fond memories, particularly regarding a frigid game between Notre Dame and Penn State with a game-time temperature of -40 degrees — the beer froze. They both played legion sports and traveled all over the state.
Life has calmed down a little. They still meet for taco Tuesdays at Tony’s Top Cat Bar & Grill, a regular routine.
The bicentennial celebration is what prompted them to join the American Legion. They continue to be members after 50 years. MacLaughlin slings SOS at the legion’s breakfast buffet.
“Our strength is not what it used to be, and that flag gets heavy,” Chromiak said, with a wink. “And Mac can’t give the commands like he used to.”
The honor guard is present at veterans’ funerals and other events. They are at the July 4th celebration and national ceremonies.
“We have participated in thousands of events,” MacLaughlin said. “We participated in one of the first Wreaths Across America events. I’ll still go to that one even when we aren’t in the honor guard.”