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North Huntingdon veterans express wartime memories on puzzle pieces

Joe Napsha
| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 5:51 p.m.

Frank Maldonado was working two blocks from his home doing what many Braddock High School graduates did in the early 1950s — laboring in U.S. Steel Corp.'s giant Edgar Thomson steel mill — when the Army tapped him for duty during the Korean War.

There were no deferments for Maldonado or his friends at the mill during the war, so he hopped on streetcar and headed into Pittsburgh on the day he was to report for duty. He got aboard a train bound for basic training before shipping off in early 1953 to the war-torn Korean peninsula in the dead of winter.

“It was 18 degrees below zero. We were in the bunkers, wearing heavy parkas, boots and gloves with the trigger finger open,” Maldonado, 86, recalled Friday during a Veterans Day program at Transitions Health Care, a North Huntingdon nursing home where he lives.

“We were fighting the North Koreans and Chinese. It was a very scary situation. At 3 in the morning, they would get on a loudspeaker and tell us to surrender. They (North Koreans) said they would treat us good. It was all propaganda,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado was among about 20 veterans at Transitions who served in World War II or the Korean War who were recognized during the program.

When he returned home several months after the war ended in July 1953, there were no celebrations, no parades for returning soldiers.

“I took the streetcar back home and my dog greeted me,” said Maldonado, who later married and had three children.

Maldonado and other veterans at the nursing home decorated white puzzle pieces that are part of a nationwide initiative by the Art is Good Foundation, which is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., but has a presence at the Latrobe Art Center. A wall of an activity room at the nursing home was plastered with the decorated puzzle pieces, with the veterans' names and names of family members. Some told a brief story of the vets' activities. One told the story of how a veteran stationed in Hawaii in 1951 met his future wife there. Most had flags and pictures of military equipment adorning them.

The project founder, Tim Kelly, wanted to collect enough of the puzzle pieces to reach the top of the Empire State Building, said Kristy Walter, an Excela Health Home Care and Hospice bereavement counselor.

“One piece doesn't make a lot of sense,” but when all are put together, it creates a picture, said Walter, who said art therapy students helped the veterans decorate their puzzle pieces.

“This is a place where the veterans can tell their stories. It's really nice for them to put it on paper,” said Maureen Ceidro, an Excela Health Home Care and Hospice bereavement counselor.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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