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Irwin N. Kingsbury, retired Baltimore City firefighter and World War II veteran, dies

Veteran Cemetery Flag (nosheep/Pixabay)

Irwin N. Kingsbury, who left City College to fight in World War II and served in Africa, Europe and the South Pacific, was an active 95-year-old until he became ill Sept. 7. He died Sept. 15 at ChristianaCare-Union Hospital in Elkton of complications of COVID-19.

Mr. Kingsbury, who lived in Towson for many years, celebrated his 95th birthday in August with a breakfast at the Cracker Barrel restaurant near his home. Later that day he sat on a bench near Schaefer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City and watched ships pass on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

“My father picked up COVID at a crab feast,” said his daughter, Nancy Kingsbury. “He otherwise led a great life — he smoked for years and never exercised. He said exercise was for a rich man.”

A friend, Vicki Vedral, said: “He was an amazing man. He made it through World War II. He crossed the Atlantic so many times, then the Pacific and the Panama Canal.”

At his death, his two granddaughters played hymns for him because, they said, he was a devout Roman Catholic and said the rosary daily. He was a member of Immaculate Conception Church in Elkton.

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“He loved to sing and loved music. As a young man, he’d go to bars with live music and he’d be singing. I have photographs in the Navy at piano bars and I know he’d be very involved with the music,” said his granddaughter, Jenna Mercilliott of Columbia.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Morling and Dellwood avenues in Hampden, he was on the Robert Poole School basketball team and left City College to join the Navy during World War II.

That he was only 17 years old was noted in a newspaper article about his class of recruits, who were sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois.

He also attended the Navy’s Signal and Radio School in Chicago and was assigned to the USS Florence Nightingale. A signalman, he made numerous crossings from East Coast ports to the British Isles and on to Africa and throughout the Mediterranean. He called at Oran in Algeria and was part of the invasions at Sicily and Marseilles, France.

After the Allied invasion was successful, he was sent to the Pacific and took part in the Battle of Okinawa.

“Before going in the Navy my father and his mother had been members of the Hampden United Methodist Church,” said his daughter, who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. “But on one of his ocean crossings, his ship hit a violent storm. My father told the story that he met a priest and promised him that if they got out of the storm safe, he’d convert to Catholicism. “

His daughter also said, “So when my father returned to Hampden, his scandalized mother found him now a Catholic, going to bars and dancing.”

After leaving the military, Mr. Kingsbury joined the Baltimore City Fire Department and served at Engine Eight Number Ten Truck Company.

In 1949, shortly after becoming a firefighter, Mr. Kingsbury was awarded a commendation bar by the City Board of Fire Commissioners for “rescue and assistance rendered to an occupant of a building where escape had been cut off by fire and smoke.” The blaze was on North Arlington Avenue in West Baltimore.

While stationed in West Baltimore, he saved two children from a burning rowhouse in the 1800 block of Edmondson Ave. in 1964.

An account in The Evening Sun said spectators standing on the street called out to firefighters and alerted them to the presence of the children in the home.

The article said Mr. Kingsbury donned a gas mask and went to the home’s smoke-filled third floor and found no one. As he was passing the second floor he heard two children crying. He said they were huddled under a bed. He brought Nathaniel Barr and Martinis Barr to safety by handing them out a window to a ladder team. The two brothers were taken to Lutheran Hospital and recovered.

Mr. Kingsbury, who became a fire department lieutenant, suffered an injury when he fell through a fire-weakened second floor and landed in the basement, shattering an ankle. He later became a Baltimore City Fire Academy instructor. He also inspected fire alarm systems, including those installed in the USF&G Building at Light and Pratt streets in the early 1970s.

After retiring from the fire service, he became a civilian Coast Guard yard employee and was chief of its fire department at Curtis Bay.

In 1957 he married Ellen O’Shea, a Union Memorial Hospital nurse. They lived on Jenifer Avenue in Parkville and were members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, where he was an assistant Boy Scout leader.

Mr. Kingsbury later lived on Ecoway Court before moving to Cecil County.

“My father was an incredible and loyal Baltimorean,” his daughter said. “He loved William Donald Schaefer and Hyman Pressman, the old comptroller. He was a huge Colts and Orioles fan and always tried to get off on Opening Day. He said one of the saddest days of his life was when Memorial Stadium was torn down. He went to Cooperstown, New York, for Brooks Robinson’s installation into the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Mr. Kingsbury and his wife enjoyed trips to Jimmy’s in Fells Point and to the Overlea Diner.

In retirement, Mr. Kingsbury was a volunteer worker at Our Daily Bread.

In addition to his daughter and granddaughter, survivors include two other granddaughters. His wife of 56 years died in 2013. A son, Brian J. Kingsbury, died in 2008. A daughter, Mary Ellen Kingsbury, died in 1976.

A life celebration will be held when COVID-19 restrictions ease.

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© 2020 The Baltimore Sun