John Michael Metelsky was born on August 11, 1927, in Bristol, Connecticut to Mildred Ponda (first generation Polish-American) and Sergey Metelsky (from Belarus). He had two siblings, Helen Metelsky Rosenblatt and Milton Metelsky and many friends.
John grew up in a neighborhood of immigrants and first generation Americans from Poland, Russia, Italy, Ireland, etc. He grew up during the Depression and his family was working class - his mother worked at E. Ingraham & Company, a clock factory and his father worked at New Departure Factory. His early childhood was difficult because his family was poor and his father was often in the hospital due to complications from being gassed during World War I. John had a beloved dog, Migdal (almond in Polish), who waited for him on the steps every day when John returned from school. He and his brother had a paper route in his neighborhood when they were kids. He later worked at Harvest Bakery and then Ideal Laundry. John spoke English and Polish at home and was an altar boy at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church.
From a young age, John was interested in exercise and healthy food. He started lifting weights as a teenager and bought wheat germ and Brewer's yeast at the local health food store which was very unusual in those days. He was a professional boxer, Johnny Mac, welterweight, and fought in 12 matches in Connecticut. In later years, he became a runner and once ran a half marathon. His commitment to health and fitness contributed to his long life.
Inspired by the intense patriotism in his community during World War II, he left high school after one year and worked on a tugboat called the Charles P. Greenough to gain shipboard experience. On April 1, 1944, he became a U.S. Merchant Marine. He served on several ships until the end of the war. These ships carried supplies for the troops, such as high-octane gasoline for airplanes, weapons, and other cargo from the United States to ports in Europe and the Mediterranean. The Merchant ships were part of large convoys ranging from 50 to 100 ships and were always in danger of being torpedoed. For this service, he earned the Atlantic War Zone Bar, Victory Medal, and Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar.
After World War II, John continued sailing with the Merchant Marine to ports all over the world. During the Korean Conflict, John was working on a ship that carried bombs from Japan to Korea. For this service, he was awarded the Korean Service Medal. John sailed on over 30 ships during his time in the Merchant Marine, traveling to countries all over the world.
In 1953, he returned to Connecticut for vacation and was drafted into the U.S. Army. Instead of returning to the war zone, he spent the next two years at Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, working on Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM's). While at Fort Eustis, he earned his GED at age 25 and took classes at nearby William & Mary. After he was discharged, he came to Washington, DC, with a fellow soldier and enrolled at George Washington University (GWU), attending college on the G.I. Bill. He was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
While at GWU, he met Sonia Fay Seaton, who worked in the Registrar's Office. John earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism at George Washington University in 1961 and a Master of Arts Degree in Communications from American University in 1967. John and Sonia were married in 1963 and had two children, Sundance born in 1964 and Johnny Sergey born in 1971.
During his 38-year U.S. Government career, he was Director of the Press Office at the US Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) for eight years. At A.I.D., John photographed and wrote stories about projects in Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti, Jordan, and Tunisia. He made a 1,600-mile-trip across the Sahara Desert in a truck convoy carrying sorghum for victims of a severe drought in Niger. His story and photographs appeared in the St. Louis Post Dispatch and other publications. An A.I.D. Disaster Report said: “A.I.D. Press Officer John Metelsky accompanied one segment of the convoy which traveled more than 1,600 miles over some of the world’s most barren and hottest terrain. He was the first American to ever cross the Sahara on a food relief mission by truck convoy.” John retired from A.I.D in 1996.
In 1980 at the age of 53, the sea beckoned once again. John took leave from the U.S. Government and worked for a month as a Merchant Marine on the S.S. Export Courier in Sicily, Turkey, and Cyprus.
John was also a member of the National Press Club for over 50 years, a Golden Owl! He was writer/photographer/editor for the National Press Club Record, a weekly newsletter, for over 40 years. He photographed hundreds of notables, including Kirk Douglas, Ingrid Bergman, Hubert Humphrey, Anwar Sadat, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, Donald Rumsfeld, Golda Meier, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, John Glenn, Colin Powell, Sean Connery, Jane Fonda, George Clooney, Dolly Parton, and Angelina Jolie.
John was also president of the Federal Editors Association (FEA) for a year.
John was predeceased by his parents, Sergey Metelsky and Mildred Ponda Metelsky, siblings, Helen Metelsky Rosenblatt and Milton Metelsky, and niece and nephew, Judy Lopatosky and Jan Rosenblatt. John is survived by his wife of 60 years, Sonia Seaton Metelsky (Silver Spring, MD), children, Sundance Metelsky (Greenbelt, MD) and John Sergey Metelsky (Denise Lacen) (North Bergen, NJ), grandchildren, Béla Wolfgang Zoltán Seaton Williams Metelsky Oehser (Laurel, MD) and Zina Xena Metelsky Oehser (Bethesda, MD), and nephew, Robert Metelsky (Shujun Ge) (Burlington, CT), along with many friends and extended family members. We will miss John’s generous loving spirit, his warmth, his sense of humor, his enthusiasm for life and adventure, his curiosity and love of learning, and his deep love for all of us. Journey well, John Michael Metelsky.
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