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Harry Kizirian

(1925-2002) ~ Inducted 1978

Harry Kizirian (July 13, 1925 – September 13, 2002) was the postmaster who oversaw construction of the first automated post office in the nation, which opened in Providence in 1960.  Kazirian also won the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star with Combat V, two Purple Hearts, and the Rhode Island Cross as a Marine Corps Corporal in World War II.

Harry Kizirian Kizirian, a first generation Armenian American, was born in his home on July 13, 1925 at 134 Chad Brown St. Providence, Rhode Island. His father worked for Rhode Island Tool Company at the time, but died when Harry was just 15. Harry turned down an athletic scholarship to La Salle in order to attend Mt. Pleasant High School where he became a top athlete in his class; played on the football team for three years and served as team captain in his senior year. Following the death of his father, Harry went to work at a meat packing plant and later worked at the Providence post office while finishing high school.

In 1944, Harry enlisted in the Marines and served seventeen months with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines, 6th Marine Division on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Serving as a fire team leader, he participated in the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, where he was wounded. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" and the Purple Heart Medal for his actions on May 11. After recovering from severe injuries, he returned to combat, fighting the Japanese on Okinawa. Kizirian placed himself in the line of fire and single-handedly attacked the enemy emplacement. The Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces that confronted Kizirian shot him in the legs and abdomen. Unable to walk, he still managed to make his way forward using his elbows to a position where he was able to shoot and kill all 12 soldiers manning the machine gun. Due to these actions, Kizirian was awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest medal in the United States military. Despite further injuries, Harry continued to fight.

Upon returning from combat, Harry experienced a number of health issues relating to war injuries. He was left permanently disabled as a result. Harry is considered one of the most decorated marines of World War II. He is also the most decorated serviceman from Rhode Island.

He returned to the Providence post office to begin his post-war career, working first as a substitute clerk. In 1954, he was appointed foreman, the first of several promotions he received throughout his life. In 1961, at age 36, he was appointed by John F. Kennedy as the postmaster of Providence, becoming one of the youngest postmasters in the United States. He was responsible for automating the Providence post office, establishing the first automated post office in the country, making it an operational model for the United States and worldwide.

In 1986, Kizirian was removed from his position amid opposition from Senators John Chafee and Claiborne Pell and protests from the employees, Kizirian's position was eliminated and he subsequently retired. He died on September 13, 2002 at age 77. His funeral procession was held at the Saint Vartanants Armenian Apostolic Church in Providence and he is buried at the Swan Point Cemetery

In October 1994, Harry Kizirian was honored by his own Atwood-Bucci Detachment of the U.S. Marine Corps League. he tribute was attended by Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci, Senator John Pastore, and Rhode Island governor Bruce Sundlun with letters read from Postmaster General Marvin Runyon.

Kizirian served as a member of the board of directors of Butler Hospital, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Providence YMCA, Rhode Island Blue Cross, the Rhode Island Heart Association, and the Rhode Island Lung Association. He was a member of the community advisory board at Rhode Island College, the Providence Heritage Commission, and the Commission on Medal of Honor Recipients from Rhode Island, and was a director of the Smith Hill Center. He served as commander of the American Legion and as detachment commander and state commandant of the Marine Corps League. He was also  a member of Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Past Department Commanders, the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, the Federal Executive Council (he was its first chairman), Butler Hospital's capital development committee, and the 1976 Easter Seal Telethon Committee of Meeting Street School. He served on the Rhode Island Bicentennial Commission and was general chairman of its Armenian Heritage subcommittee and a member of the Veterans Affairs subcommittee

He belonged to a number of postal workers associations, Amenian heritage groups and received numerous postal awards and was actively involved in a number of charities. In retirement, he worked part-time as a consultant to a messenger service in Providence and continued heading dinner committees. He was also active with Big Brothers, the Veterans Home in Bristol, and the Heart Association.

Harry has been honored in his home state with a post office, a plaza, and an elementary school named in his honor. Upon his retirement, a special stamp cancellation showing the flag-raising on Battle of Iwo Jima was issued in his honor. In 1987, the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) presented him with its John O. Stitely Distinguished Public Service Award.  Harry also received the Seven Seals Award from the Rhode Island committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in recognition of his three-year term as state chairman. Rhode Island College bestowed its alumni service award on him in 1986, and in May 2002, the college awarded Harry with an honorary doctor of public service degree. Additionally he received an honorary doctorate in humanities from Roger Williams College in 1983. The  Ocean State Charities private nonprofit foundation that serves to assist other nonprofit and social service agencies throughout the state of Rhode Island has named an award after Kizirian.

 


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