World War II vets gather to reminisce at the Lower Burrell VFW
The agenda on a cold Sunday afternoon at the VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell was clear: Remember.
The post along Wildlife Lodge Road hosted a reunion for World War II veterans Dec. 9 where 10 of them — all over the age of 90 — were treated to a hot meal and afforded a chance to rehash old war stories.
James “Red” Foley, 92, of Lower Burrell, shared memories of approaching Mount Suribachi as a teenage U.S. Marine.
“I saw the flag from the ship,” he said, referencing the iconic photograph snapped by Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945 after the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Foley was wounded twice while fighting on the Pacific island, he said. The first time was from a Japanese hand grenade that exploded nearby, leaving shrapnel in his body that remains today. The second time put him out of the service when he and other soldiers suffered the blow of a mortar shell.
“I was sitting next to a guy who got killed. Another was wounded,” Foley said. He remembers being given morphine as he lay on a stretcher.
He passed out and when he awoke, he heard bullets whizzing by.
“They didn’t hit anybody. But they took me down to the battalion aid station and then I was put on a ship (before heading back to the U.S.),” Foley said.
Dom DeBernardi, 92, of Hyde Park, was approached by John Arduino, 91, of Leechburg — a fellow veteran who shared an Italian heritage. The two broke out into the language after shaking hands and a brief introduction.
“I can only speak the Northern Italy dialect. If I go to Rome, I can’t understand a word they say,” DeBernardi said with a smile.
The veteran served in the Navy’s Coast Guard in Europe and the Pacific from 1943-46. He was 17 years-old when he enlisted.
“My birthday was only one month away,” he said. He shared a story about a typhoon he experienced while onboard a ship off the coast of Japan.
“Those waves were bigger than these hills around here,” DeBernardi said.
One man, Bill Tingle, of Lower Burrell, was 25 when he was drafted in 1942. He’s now 101 years old.
“I went to seven countries (in Europe),” Tingle said. He served in the Army until the end of the war in 1945.
Tom Jacobs, the VFW’s quartermaster, said the only requirement for veterans to benefit from the reunion Sunday was to give their name, a brief history of their time in the service and to recite their serial number. Many of the veterans did.
One of them was Arthur Duppstadt, 94, of Leechburg. The life member of the VFW post said he enjoys the camaraderie he experiences at reunions like the one held Sunday. He brought his son and his son-in-law to the occasion so they could pass along the stories heard.
“I hadn’t really thought much of the war until (George H.W.) Bush died,” he said, holding the microphone that was passed around at one point during the reunion. The 41st president died at age 94 on Nov. 30.
“We were born nine days apart,” Duppstadt said of Bush. He said the two were both fighter pilots who experienced their share of peril. Duppstadt served in the Army Air Force from 1942-45, the same tenure as Bush.
“We had lots in common,” he said.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, email@example.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.