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Local veterans recognized for service at annual luncheon

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Signal Item
U.S. Army veteran Joe Barley, 93, left, a resident of Country Meadows Retirement Community in Bridgeville, tells a story about the D-Day invasion to 911th Airlift Wing Captain Shawn Walleck during Country Meadows annual Pearl Harbor Day Luncheon Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item

For Larry Tornese, one of the more brutal days of his life came in December 1944.

In the wake of the Allied forces' successful D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, it seemed as if World War II was all but over.

The soldiers fighting soon would discover differently.

In December 1944, Tornese was a field artillery officer with the U.S. Army. He and several other soldiers were stationed in Belgium when German soldiers launched a counteroffensive that was intended to cut through the Allied forces in a manner that would turn the tide in Adolf Hitler's favor.

Tornese, who will be 92 on Dec. 20, still has a clean, concise memory of the fear he and other soldiers felt as the Germans crossed the Belgium border. He can remember the cold air, the sounds of the bullets and the feeling of the bombs hitting the ground.

“We had to get out and get out fast. It was so cold (outside). But we eventually pushed back, and we won that battle,” said Tornese, a native of Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood who served as a field artillery officer in World War II from 1942 to 1945.

There are several things the war taught him. Mainly, he did not think it was worth it all.

“Wars,” Tornese said, “are the worst thing in the world. A lot of innocent people get killed, people who have no right getting killed. I guess you have to really be there to see it. I never want to see it again.”

Tornese and about 40 other military veterans were honored for their sacrifices for their country on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) by Country Meadows of South Hills retirement community in South Fayette. Veterans from the area were invited to attend the luncheon, now in its 10th year.

“This is our way of saying, ‘Thank you,' and giving back to the veterans,” said Erika Seibel, marketing coordinator at Country Meadows.

The age difference in the veterans who attended the Country Meadows' event ranged from the late 30s to the early 90s. Some had served 20 years in the military, nearly all of their professional life.

This was the case for Capt. Shawn Walleck, the chief of public affairs for the 911th Airlift Wing at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Walleck served in the U.S. Army from 1992 to 1996 as a reservist. At the time, he was majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

In 2000, the U.S. Navy came calling.

“So I went,” he said.

Walleck never has been in battle, and, he said, he sees a different kind of animal in the older veterans that surrounded him at last week's luncheon.

“To be here today, it is both intimidating and humbling. At the same time, there is a tough quality in that generation that we have not yet recreated.

“We just live in different times.”

Jeff Widmer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5810 or jwidmer@tribweb.com.

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