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Published: Sunday, 9/15/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Robert D. Grocki; 1926-2013: Retired Toledo firefighter was WWII turret gunner, POW

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Robert D. Grocki, a Toledo firefighter who for most of his career inspected hospitals and other public places for hazards, but also investigated the cause of fires, died Wednesday in the Hospice House of the Villages in Florida. He was 87.

He died from complications of a heart problem, his son Chris said.

Mr. Grocki and his wife, Gretchen, moved from West Toledo to central Florida in 2002. He retired in 1987 after 33 years in the fire service.

“People liked Bob, and a lot of people learned from him,” said Robert Schwanzl, a retired Toledo assistant fire chief.

Mr. Grocki’s assignment to the fire prevention bureau required regular inspections of hospitals, bowling alleys, and other public places, but also of venues that held such large gatherings as circuses and concerts.

He conducted another sort of inspection after the embers of a structure fire cooled.

“He had to go figure out what the causes of fires were, if there were fatalities or suspicious circumstances,” his wife said. “There were a lot of tales he could tell you. Some were sad. Some were funny.”

Two attributes came in handy.

“He was studious. Anything he didn’t know, he would take the time to learn,” son Joe said.

And he liked to solve puzzles: “He took great pride in unraveling those mysteries,” son Chris said.

He was born Jan. 1, 1926, to Clara and Robert S. Grocki. He grew up on Yates Street in North Toledo and attended Woodward High School.

During Army Air Corps service in World War II, he was a turret gunner aboard B17s. German anti-aircraft fire shot down his aircraft in March, 1945, after his 16th mission, a bombing run over Hamburg. His pilot was killed.

He and the crew were held in Stalag Luft I, only to be liberated on May 1 — May Day — by Soviet troops. 

The prisoners “went to bed one night, and when they woke up, there wasn’t a German in sight,” his wife said. “They had all fled because the Russians were coming.”

His first wife, Sylvia, died in 1966. His marriage to the late Elizabeth Robertson ended in divorce.

Surviving are his wife, Gretchen Grocki, whom he married April 7, 1979; sons, Ronald “Joe” and Christopher Grocki, and three grandsons.

Visitation will be from 4 to 6 p.m. today at Hiers-Bexley Funeral Service, The Villages, Fla. Graveside services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell, Fla.

The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Firefighters Museum.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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