Before Tom Sakezles started his first Tampa barber shop in the early 1950’s, he had already done and seen more than most people would or should in an entire lifetime, including being killed-in-action.
In 1942 at the age of 16, Sakezles ran away from home to join the Marine Corps to fight in World War II.
“The Marines didn’t care, I just told them I was born in 1924,” Sakezles says with a smile.
According to Sakezles, one of the motivations, which caused him to join, was seeing graphic photos in Life Magazine of atrocities committed by the Japanese.
During the war, Sakezles served as a machine gunner in F company of the 2nd Battalion of the 25thRegiment of the 4th Marine Division. He fought in four major battles in the Pacific including the Battle of Kwajalein, Battle of Saipan, Battle of Tinian and the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“I was one of the first men ashore in Saipan and Tinian, and was in the second wave at Iwo Jima,” said Sakezles.
On his third day of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Sakezles earned a Purple Heart when a piece of shrapnel penetrated his throat and he had to be medevaced from the island. Soon thereafter, his parents would receive a telegram from the government informing them that he had been killed in action, but that wasn’t the case.
Sakezles recovered and in 1946, after the war was won and with four years of service to his country, he was honorably discharged and became a civilian again. According to Sakezles, he drifted for a little while, but later settled down in Tampa to become a barber.
His first barber shop was called Tom’s Barber Shop, and in 1961 while crossing the street to grab lunch, he met a young lady named Gail, who would become his wife and the mother of their three daughters and one son.
After the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, at the age of 76, Tom received a unique offer. The military asked if he’d like to serve again. Tom chocked it up to a probable and laughable mistake, but he has always tried to give back to the military, veteran and first responder community.
This year, Tom talked with his son Chris, the founder of SynDaver, and Chris’s wife, Allie, to see what else they could do. They decided to redecorate the current shop, which is called The Barbers’ Shop, with images of American military members serving in most of the nation’s conflicts. Additionally, they decided to offer something special on Patriot Day (Sept. 11), which is a national day of service and remembrance.
“I just want people to remember and think about it,” Sakezles said. “9-11 should be taken seriously.”
As a result, SynDaver will cover the cost of a haircut and shave for the first 100 active duty military, reserve military members, veterans and first responders that stop by The Barbers’ Shop on Sept. 11.
While his shop has moved to six different locations over the decades, today it’s located at 220 East Bearss Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33613, and is an old-fashioned barber shop, where they still rub warm shaving cream on the neck and use a straight razor.
Nowadays, Gail and Tom still reside in the same home where they raised their children, and Tom spends most of his time gardening, while giving the extra produce he grows to charities like Joshua House.
When asked what kind of advice he would offer to today’s young men, the WWII veteran from the Greatest Generation offered these few words. “Find a woman, and get married,” Sakezles said.
The Barbers’ Shop is open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. and is also looking to hire three more barbers.