FAN Reader Reunites Pearl Harbor Survivors

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson December 15, 2014 11:36
ski-and-frenchy-courtesy-black-oak-casino

Biernacki (left) and Lajeunesse at their October reunion

When Cheri Shirey of Ione read how Ski Biernacki and the USS Helena survived a Japanese torpedo attack at Pearl Harbor (Friends and Neighbors, Summer 2014 issue), something sounded familiar.

Shirey, 65, sent the story to her good friend Shirley Young in Southern California. Shirey knew that Young’s father, Eugene “Frenchy” Lajeunesse, had also been aboard the Helena at Pearl Harbor.

Young then contacted Biernacki and offered to drive Frenchy, 91 and living in Lancaster, to Jamestown for a late October reunion.

“Seeing someone from the Helena was fantastic,” says Biernacki, 92. “Although we both first went aboard in San Pedro in 1940, we didn’t really know each other well. I was on a gun mount up top, and he was a couple decks below in the engine room.

“But when Frenchy walked in the door, boy, did the wheels start turning,” continues Biernacki. “All of a sudden so much stuff from the Helena came back to both of us.”

Lajeunesse was knocked unconscious when a torpedo hit the Helena and its crew of 1,000 at Pearl Harbor. When the ship was sunk by Japanese torpedoes two years later at Kula Gulf, he spent more than three hours in the water before being rescued by an American de­stroyer. This was an experience shared by Biernacki and many of the Helena’s survivors.

More than seven decades later, Ski and Frenchy found themselves together again – this time under far happier circumstances.

The two Helena veterans, along with Frenchy’s daughter Shirley, enjoyed a leisurely reunion dinner at Seven Sisters Restaurant at Black Oak Casino Resort. Other diners overheard their conversation, thanked them for their service and gave them thumbs up. One couple asked to pay for their dessert, but when the restaurant’s manager learned the two men were Pearl Harbor survivors, the entire bill was waived.

Now that the two men have found each other, they’re already talking about a second reunion. “Cheri has volunteered to drive Ski down here,” Lajeunesse says, “and I sure hope he makes it.”

“It was fantastic, just fantastic,” he says of their unexpected reunion. “There is something in a bonding of crew members that makes us all brothers.”

Click on these links to view Ski Biernacki’s story and video. Frenchy Lajeunesse’s war service is detailed online at usshelena.org/lajeunesse2.html.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson December 15, 2014 11:36
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