Millvale group honors sole remaining WWII veteran
At its first banquet in 1948 the Last Man’s Club, a group of World War II veterans based at VFW Post 118 in Millvale, had 91 attendees.
Last week — 67 years later — Frank V. Haugh, 91, was the last veteran at the group’s 68th and last banquet.
“This is the last year of so many of these. We are here to honor his service and the service of those who he served with,” Haugh’s son, Frank A. Haugh of Cleveland, said of his father, part of an increasingly scarce and elite number of living World War II veterans.
About 492 World War II veterans die each day, according to the federal Veterans Affairs department. About 855,000 American veterans remain among the 16 million who served in the war.
By grabbing onto a rope, the elder Haugh survived the torpedoing of the SS Leopoldville on Christmas Eve 1944 in the rough waters of the English Channel when the boat’s crew was headed to the Battle of the Bulge.
Haugh escaped the sinking ship five miles off the coast of Cherbourg, France.
Another 763 of the ship’s crew members died.
The Millvale native went on to have four children and work most of his career as a human resources official in the steel industry in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cleveland, where he lives now.
At last week’s banquet at Silvioni’s restaurant in Millvale, his family and family of other club members surrounded Haugh. A quiet man, he said he did not fully understand all the fuss.
“It’s good to be here,” said the elder Haugh.
His family said he has always looked forward to the Last Man’s banquet.
“The banquet meant a lot to him, even in recent years. He would always remind us when it was coming up and — in the years since he had a stroke — he’d ask who was going to drive him to it,” Frank A. Haugh said.
For years, the elder Haugh kept quiet about his war expriences. He never talked about surviving the Leopoldville until much later.
“He mentioned it about 50 years ago, when I was in sixth grade, because a book about the Leopoldville was published,” his son said. Others, such as Erma Kuntz, 84, of Kittanning say they never would miss the banquet.
She was not sure she wanted to drive the nearly 50 miles to the banquet in heavy rain.
“I thought it was a long drive in bad weather. But it’s the least I can do,” said Kuntz, whose husband, Russell Kuntz, died at 84 in 2013. One of the group’s youngest veterans, he organized the banquet for years.
Russell Kuntz quit high school and lied about his age to join the Navy at 16 in early 1945.
Another vet who attended the banquets, Paul N. Mihlfried, died at age 91 in August. He went to high school with Haugh and fought in China and Burma.
Like Haugh — whose wife and children did not know about his daring escape from the Leopoldville for decades — Mihlfried, a sheet metal worker, did not brag.
“He never talked about it but his military service meant a lot to people and to him,” said Mihlfried’s son, Paul W. Mihlfried of McCandless.
“Dad did not miss any of these,” Mihlfried said of the banquets. “It was camaraderie, getting together with the guys.”
Rick Wills is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7944 or at email@example.com.