Ken Dziennik, pictured with Post Commander James W. Lopez, Sr. and Post Adjutant George L. Peters, was recognized for 50 years of service at a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

ESSEX — Ken Dziennik, a veteran of the United States Navy who served a tour in Vietnam, received a citation, pin and patch for 50 years of service at the Essex/Holly Neck Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2621 in a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

“I was honored,” he said in an interview with The Avenue, adding with a bit of a chuckle, “Honored to live this long, too.”

Dziennik has been a longtime pillar of the local veterans community after serving four years from 1967 to 1971. He joined the Dundalk VFW Post 6694 in 1971, and then transferred to the Essex post in 1996, where he served as a trustee for seven years.

A ten-year retiree from Worthington Steel, Dziennik has seen a lot of growth in the area in the fifty years since his return from service.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “When I first got out of service, the road I used to live on was a dirt road. Then all of a sudden, everything was asphalt. There were big changes.”

The post was shut down for four months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and safety concerns meant that the ceremony where Dziennik received his honors was small — just a handful of people, rather than the 30 to 40 who might have gathered during normal times.

Still, he said that people have been reaching out to share congratulations and messages of support. Dziennik’s wife passed away in April, and he said he has turned to friends and family, including those in the VFW community, for support.

It’s been difficult, though — he said he misses his two young grandkids who he hasn’t seen since March, before his wife passed. Their mother is concerned about the safety risk amid COVID, and he doesn’t blame her, he said, but he’s anxious to see them soon.

Looking ahead, he said he plans to resume some of his former duties as a trustee, and is looking forward to the post hosting more social events as the pandemic subsides. Despite everything he’s seen, he never expected to live through something like COVID.

“It’s really been going crazy lately,” he said. “The world is really changing.”

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