Steven James Hantzis is an author and public speaker. His professional career and working life include thirty years in the American labor movement at the top levels of union administration. He retired from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in 2013.
Before his union career, Steven “Steve” worked in the railroad operating crafts as a brakeman-conductor for twelve years in Central Indiana. He also taught high school and held an adjunct faculty position for Indiana University Division of Labor Studies.
In a theater of war long forgotten and barely even known at the time, James Harry Hantzis and his fellow soldiers labored at a thankless task under oppressive conditions. Nonetheless, as Rails of War demonstrates, without the men of the 721st Railway Operating Battalion, the Allied forces would have been defeated in the China-Burma-India conflict in World War II.
Steven James Hantzis’s father served alongside other GI railroaders in overcoming danger, disease, fire, and monsoons to move the weight of war in the China-Burma-India theater. Torn from their predictable working-class lives, the men of the 721st journeyed fifteen thousand miles to Bengal, India, to do the impossible: build, maintain, and manage seven hundred miles of track through the most inhospitable environment imaginable.
From the harrowing adventures of the Flying Tigers and Merrill’s Marauders to detailed descriptions of grueling jungle operations and the Siege of Myitkyina, this is the remarkable story of the extraordinary men of the 721st, who moved an entire army to win the war.
Steve studied political science at Indiana University and later taught there. He received a bachelor’s degree from Antioch University in Labor Studies. He and his wife, Kathleen, have lived in the Washington, D.C. area for twenty years. At their home in Maine, Steve enjoys peace and quiet, writing, fishing, kayaking, and the glorious Maine coast.
Family History of Railroaders:
Steve grew up in Central Indiana in a time when industrial and transportation jobs were the backbone of the middle class. Through his freshman year at North Salem High School, he lived on a 40-acre farm and, to this day, has a love for the outdoors and open spaces. Steve finished High School in Danville, Indiana where he received an excellent grounding in science and literature.
Steve’s grandfather, Epamenondas “Harry” Demetrins Hantzis, was from Chomori, Greece, a lovely if tiny village high in the Nafpaktian Mountains. Steven’s maternal great-grandfather, Gustav Graf, was from Schippenbeil in what was then called East Prussia and today is called Poland.
Steve’s father, James Harry Hantzis, was born into a Greek and German speaking household on January 20, 1920, and grew up on the eastside of Indianapolis. When he graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in 1939, Gustav took him to the New York Central Railroad’s Western Division Shops in Beech Grove and got him a job as an apprentice machinist. At the time, Gustav was working for the New York Central as a car repairman, a job he started in 1917. Gustav worked as a welder on the Truck and Hoist Crew until he died in June 1945 at 73. Gustav was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of America, Local 586.
In 1968, the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads merged into the Penn Central Railroad, and in 1974, Steve left teaching and began working there as a brakeman. He answered an ad in the Indianapolis Star that read, “The Penn Central Railroad is looking for tall men.” Steven was promoted to conductor in 1979 and took a buyout from railroad service in 1986 after starting his career in the labor movement.