WWII Survivor and Casper Resident Passes Away at 93
An American of Polish decent, that's how George Victor Trojan referred to himself.
When I last saw Trojan, just over a year ago, he was 92 years old and exactly the same as when I'd first met him a few years prior -- which mostly means you never would have guessed he was far over 80. He was the same every day: exclaiming loudly whenever a familiar face walked in the room, always smiling and talking about what he was up to this week, and usually fiddling on his phone with some minor problem he would ask for help with.
For several years I worked at the Casper Country Club, off and on, and in my last stint of time there I became acquainted with George Trojan and, as did most of us regular staff, became close with him. Georgie, he was called, and shall from here on be referred to as such.
It was easy to completely forget, in the day-to-day regularity with which we saw Georgie, just what kind of life he had led to that point. After 70 years in the United States, he had never lost the accent from his native Poland, but it was only once you thought about his age that you might wonder how he got to America.
Born in Lwow, Poland in 1927, George Trojan lived through the Russian occupation of Poland, in a time when the week was not seven days long but six: Sunday had been eliminated to prevent Polish Catholics from going to church. He went to school when there were no books, only propaganda to be taught verbally. He witnessed Jewish neighbors taken away without a word. He saw shootings that he never discussed. Georgie was 15 years old when he and his friend were walking home and the Gestapo stopped them, abducted them into a truck and took them from Lwow to join the German workforce. Trojan would not see his family again for almost 20 years. He would never return to his hometown.
During months of forced labor with the Germany Army, Georgie and his friend Stan helped build telephone lines. Then one day, after weeks of planning, George and Stan simply walked away from their labor and didn't look back.
Moving at night, they hid in barns and were fortunate enought to be fed, clothed, and advised by civilians. After weeks of being on the run, a Polish-American soldier kicked Trojan awake, changing his life once again.
Coming to America was, undoubtedly, the best thing to happen to George Trojan.
Arriving in September of 1946, he joined the US Army, where he served for six and a half years before retiring as sergeant major and spending another 20 years in the reserves. Trojan went to night school while in service, eventually got his GED, and graduated from Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where he also met his wife of 58 years, Genie. Fresh out of college, Trojan began to work for Ford Motor and Ingersoll-Rand Contrsuction and Mining Company -- the job that would take him to Saudi Arabia, New Jersey, and then finally to what Georgie called his true home: Casper, Wyoming.
In the end, it was complications from COVID-19 that claimed Trojan's life, at the impressive age of 93. Up until that point, he was still a prominent player on the seniors' water volleyball team at Lifetime Health and Fitness, he bowled with his Country Club friends on days the weather prevented their golf game, and, I'm sure, still kept his social schedule of daily lunch at the Casper Country Club restaurant.
Plenty of people will focus on the paragraphs outlining the triumphs and tribulations of Trojan's life: the difficult childhood in Poland, scraping by and surviving by luck and random generosity, and the heroics of a young man fleeing a war far too big for him to grasp. Those details can be read anywhere. Most accurately, in the book he wrote just a couple years ago, at age 90, recounting his childhood and the events following: Too Young For the Times. But there's a lot missing from any general obituary about George Victor Trojan. Georgie.
I met Georgie near the end of my tenure at the Casper Country Club, when I was working more full time. At that point, I even went bowling with him and the older men in his crowd. Bowling is one of my favourite memories of Georgie. I must've seen him bowl a dozen games, and every time, it looked like that big ol' ball was going to take that little old man down with damage. And every time, he stayed upright, the ball stayed straight, and alarmingly often, it was an impressive strike. Watching never got old -- or less frustrating for those of us who cannot do half as well.
While other people talk about the food and shelter civilians risked to help save Georgie's life 70 years earlier in war-torn Poland, I'm here to reminisce about the half-sized sandwiches with a side of fruit (especially grapes) he liked for lunch, how often he ordered Mexican food (always with extra onions), the glass of wine he would default to if nothing sparked his appetite (with a little extra to make it the "Georgie-pour").
I'll never forget the day he ordered the lunch special, red chili with cheese and onions, and some warmed up flour tortillas on the side. A fateful day, as from then on, he always asked for that bowl of chili and flour tortillas. The Club didn't carry it regularly -- until it became Georgie's favourite meal, and then there was red chili more days than not.
Those of us who worked at the Country Club around Georgie all became close with him, and all looked forward to seeing him each day, "whether that meant getting down to politics or seeing photos of the rabid dog he fought off with his bare hands," one staff member, Mary Schroer, recollects. Yes, time with Georgie was never dull.
He was simply another man, any man; with a past and experiences most people cannot imagine, but he was also full of endless energy, he loved red onions and Mexican food, he talked all the time of his children, he kept up with the lives of each of us waitstaff at the Club and would chat about our hobbies, he played around on Facebook or Instagram (many of us girls would look for his social media posts with fond excitement), and he loved to talk about anything, all the time.
Naturally, that also meant we were granted daily updates about his writing endeavors when Too Young For the Times was in the works. Mary McPherson, another staff member at the Casper Country Club that knew him well, recollects Trojan proudly naming her as his "Chief Nagger," thanks to her doggedly asking for updates on how many pages he'd done. From fruitlessly asking for tech help, to being 'nagged' about his writing, Georgie had all our support.
I haven't seen Georgie in over a year, but he's part of conversation often enough, it doesn't feel like much time has passed at all. To realize I won't be seeing him again has been a shock that has grown steadily over the days since I heard about his passing.
When old age couldn't get him at the point of 93, the one thing George Trojan couldn't anticipate or avoid was the effects of coronavirus on a 90-year-old's body. It enrages me in some ways that this is how Georgie went, but I do know that even though his life recently ended, he filled it completely with always being grateful, always being happy and kind, and always making sure those around him felt the same.
"Georgie was always stronger than I thought anyone could be," Mary Schroer comments. "He had a larger-than-life presence that made him feel timeless."
From 'too young for the times' to 'timeless' -- I suppose that means George Victor Trojan did it all.
A memorial service will be held for George Trojan on Monday, November 30, at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Evansville, Wyoming.