Bridgeville Remembered

The Greatest Generation

By John F. Oyler

The 1940s were dominated by World War II and “The Greatest Generation”. During the War a group of men from Bethany Presbyterian Church mailed a monthly newsletter to Bridgeville service men and women, to remind them what they were fighting for.

An eloquent description of life in Bridgeville in those days was written included in one of the newsletters. In August, 1944, Jane Patton, then in her early twenties, described a walk through Bridgeville on a Saturday evening, beginning at Bethany Church, proceeding up Washington Avenue to Station Street, then down Station Street to Dewey Avenue, terminating at Hines’ Dairy Store, where her sister Patty was dispensing grape soda pop to Minnie Halloran, Teddy Gross, Dit Corey, Sam David, Biff Villani, and Harry Buzzatto.

En route she mentioned seeing Grant Pearl; Doctors Fife, Rittenhouse, and McGarvey; Sam Fryer, Ralph Weise, Knobby Sam, and Izzy Miller. “Shine On, Harvest Moon”, starring Dennis Morgan, Ann Sheridan, and Jack Carson was playing at the Rankin Theater; the crowd for the “second show” at 9:15 had already begun to gather.

On the bridge were “Malarkey, Delphus, Donelli, and Maruzewski trying to decide what to do with the rest of the evening” and making wise cracks about the young ladies who passed by. People were lined up waiting for the Blue Ridge Bus; later on she spotted HudgeVillani turning onto Railroad Street in Bigi Bus. Artie Chivers was sitting in the police car parked on the corner, in an intense conversation with Chief Myers and Mayor Butch Goldbach.

Also mentioned were Mr. Lutz, in the lumber company office; jeweler Pete Strasser; bankers Murray and Holman; druggist Bill Bennett; and Mr. Foster, the groceryman. She also reported “John Purse is sitting at his big desk in that tiny office under the National Bank.”

“There are a lot of people in Squire Croft’s office” brought back many memories – we all remember Eddie Croft! He was charismatic before any of us ever heard of the term. When one of the downtown newspapers organized the Junior Commandos as a way young people could contribute to the War Effort, he enrolled every student in the grade school and junior high, and was promptly promoted to Colonel in the Commandos. The Historical Society has a copy of the picture that appeared in the paper showing all the grade school kids gathered together to celebrate this event.

Jane reported that women were now serving as guards where the railroad crossed Station Street and that Esther Petrick and May Thomas were “smashing a ball around” on the newly lined tennis courts at the Norwood. It is easy to believe that some GI in a foxhole in Italy got really homesick after reading this newsletter.

The participation of young men and women from this area during the War was then discussed based on my brother’s, book, “Almost Forgotten”. The book is a record of Joe’s project to identify and commemorate “all of the men from the Bridgeville and South Fayette who made the supreme sacrifice for our country and are now largely forgotten”. I doubt that anyone familiar with the book will soon forget the men who died in World War II.

Sixty two young men from this area lost their lives during the War. The definition of “this area” is arbitrary; it includes the parts of Collier, Scott, and Upper St. Clair Townships that are contiguous to Bridgeville.

Alexander Asti was killed during the battle for Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942 while serving as a seaman on the light cruiser Juneau. Also serving on this ship were the five Sullivan brothers; I distinctly remember hearing one of President Roosevelt’s fireside chats when he mentioned the tragedy of their deaths when the Juneau was sunk. Asti grew up on Baldwin Street and graduated from BHS in 1939. A photo of him and the Juneau is featured on the cover of “Almost Forgotten”.

Robert Randolph also grew up on Baldwin Street. He was killed in Italy in November, 1944, while serving with the 370th Infantry Regiment, a segregated (all African American) unit. Prior to the War he had been a truck driver for Limestone Products as well as spending some time in Civilian Conservation Corps. The Randolph-Simpson American Legion Post, founded in 1946, was named for him and for Ronald Simpson, who died in Italy in March, 1945. It is ironic that members of segregated military units during World War II found it necessary to form a segregated Legion post after the war.

Elmer Straka played end on the 1942 BHS Championship team before graduating and entering the service. His home was on Chess Street and his death had a serious impact on everyone who knew him. He was killed in France in December 1944 while serving with the 346th Infantry Regiment. “Almost Forgotten” contains a poignant letter from a priest to Elmer’s mother, reporting his passing. It is difficult not to get emotional whenever you read details about these men or look at their photographs and realize the tragedy of their deaths.

Lawrence Schollaert, a resident of Sturgeon, was serving in the Army when he was killed on Biak Island in March 1945. When Joe was researching for his project, he asked his friend Ed Schneider, who had served in the Pacific, if he knew the location of Biak Island. Ed replied that, not only had he been on Biak, he was there when Private Schollaert was killed while on guard duty during a Japanese air raid.

Not all the fatalities occurred during combat. Louis McCool was an aviation cadet in pilot training in Florida when he was killed in a plane crash in early 1944. A few months later his brother, Lawrence, lost his life when the bomber he was piloting was shot down in Italy. What a price the McCool family paid!

To those of us living on Lafayette Street during the War the death of William Hagerty was particularly significant, although he never lived in Bridgeville. In the 1940s his family occupied a house on Elizabeth Street, close to where we lived; we shared their mourning of his being killed during the battle for Guam in July 1944. William was nearly thirty eight years old, the oldest of any of the men documented in “Almost Forgotten”. His sister Marion was a frequent contributor to the previously mentioned Bethany Newsletter.

David Wayne Carson lost his life when the B-17 “Flying Fortress” he was piloting crashed in Sicily in November 1943 on the way back to their base in Africa following a raid on Athens, Greece. He was a member of the 15th Air Force, as was Joseph Heller, the author of the satirical World War II novel, “Catch 22”. The Carson family lived on Church Street; he was a graduate of BHS who had worked for the Vanadium Corporation before the War.

A positive note is the story of three Baldwin Street neighborhood airmen in Europe who were shot down, became prisoners of war, and ended up in the same POW camp, Stalag Luft IV. Two of them were cousins – George Shady and George Abood. Both men were gunners on B-24 Liberators, based in England. Sergeant Shady was imprisoned in February 1944; Sergeant Abood, five months later. Abood’s mother learned he was a prisoner through a letter from Shady received by his mother.

Pete Calabro was a gunner on a B-17 shot down over Budapest in September 1944 and eventually ended up in the same POW camp as his neighbors, Abood and Shady. All three survived captivity and returned home to their grateful families. The contributions of all the members of “the Greatest Generation” must never be forgotten.

The years following the end of the War were filled with optimism. The “War to make the world safe for democracy” had been won and we were in for an era of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately no one bothered to give this information to Josef Stalin and Chairman Mao. GIs returning from Europe brought predictions that we would be back fighting the Communists in a few years. Then came the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Airlift, the Red Revolution in China, and finally, in 1950, Korea.

Nonetheless the postwar years in Bridgeville were pleasant. Thanks to the GI Bill, hundreds of returning servicemen and women were given the opportunity for a college education, something most of them would have been unable to afford otherwise. New homes were built at a record pace and many new families begun.

The high school continued to be the cultural center of Bridgeville. Athletic events, concerts, and school plays were community-wide events, not something limited to families with kids in school. The 1948 and 1949 football seasons brought WPIAL Class B Championships to add to the one previously won in 1942. Pictures of these teams, of Boy Scout Troop 245; of Skip Batch’s “Indians”, an award winning drum and bugle corps; and of various local landmarks exemplify the era.

The Author

  • John Oyler's column,
    "Water Under The Bridge",
    appears weekly in the
    Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication.
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