Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network

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Obituary: Walter “Whitey” Dudek, NWP Brakeman & Conductor

From the Press Democrat website:


Published: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 6:38 p.m.


It was in the spring of 1945 when Walter “Whitey” Dudek woke abruptly in his bunk on the USS Pritchett to the piercing whine of an approaching kamikaze plane.


Dudek ran from his bunk near the edge of the Navy vessel toward the ship’s protected center, slipping on blood along the way, but narrowly escaped injury.


The vessel was under attack, and the crew would later win a Navy Unit Commendation for outstanding heroism for remaining in the treacherous waters to rescue the crew of another ship that was hit by another suicide attack. When Dudek later went back to his bunk, it was gone.

Dudek, a Water Tender Third Class in the Navy, died in Santa Rosa on Jan. 28. He was 85 years old.


“He has always said, all of our lives, that that brought purpose and direction to his life,” said daughter Kathy Wertz of Santa Rosa, who recounted her father’s military stories. “He said that was a turning point for him.”


Dudek was born in Detroit, Mich. His mother died when he was 9 years old, and his father placed Dudek and his siblings in an orphanage when he could no longer raise them. Dudek later lived in foster homes, and around age 13 decided to strike out and live on his own.


He worked odd jobs, and was homeless for periods of time, his daughter said, until he was drafted in 1943. Dudek manned the small artillery during combat in the Pacific campaign, when he wasn’t working in the boiler room.


It was in the Navy that Dudek met his best friend Manny, who convinced Dudek to move to Northern California after he was discharged in 1946 to work on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.


Dudek soon moved to Santa Rosa where he met his wife Bettie. They married in 1949 and lived in Santa Rosa for more than 60 years.


Wertz called Dudek a supportive father who was proud of his accomplishments.


“Every time somebody got in trouble, that was his answer: ‘Put them in the military, that would straighten them out,’” Wertz said.


In more than 35 years working on the railroad, Dudek served as a brakeman and conductor, and rode the last passenger train through Santa Rosa.


“He was a pretty strong man,” Wertz said. “He was not a complainer, he always just moved on.”


In addition to his daughter Kathy Wertz, Dudek is survived by his wife Bettie Dudek, daughter Janet McFarland and son Larry Dudek, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, all of Santa Rosa. He also is survived by his brother Edward Dudek of Grand Rapids, Ohio.


A memorial service with military honors will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Daniels Chapel of the Roses, 1225 Sonoma Ave. in Santa Rosa. His family said that if desired, loved ones can make a donation to a charity of their choice.


— Cathy Bussewitz


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