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The 'Greatest Generation' assured our freedoms

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The final presentation of our “Bridgeville Remembered” series dealt with the 1940s and was dominated by a discussion of World War II and the “Greatest Generation.” We will devote two columns to it.

To set the scene for this topic we read, verbatim, an eloquent description of life in Bridgeville in those days, written by Jane Patton. 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.

In August 1944, Patton, then in her early 20s, 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, and 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, already had 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 Hudge Villani turning onto Railroad Street in a Bigi Bus. Artie Chivers was sitting in the police car parked on the corner, engaged 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;” neither I nor anyone in the audience had any idea who he was.

“There are a lot of people in Squire Croft's office” generated a lot of response from the audience — 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. The Bridgeville Area 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.

Patton 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.

The participation of young men and women from this area during the war was then discussed by my brother, Joseph, based primarily on information from his book, “Almost Forgotten.” The book is a record of his project to identify and commemorate “all of the men from the Bridgeville and South Fayette area who made the supreme sacrifice for our country and are now largely forgotten.”

I doubt that anyone who heard this presentation will soon forget the men who died in World War II. Incidentally, his book and the Bridgeville Area Historical Society book “Bridgeville,” which was the basis for this series of talks, are available for sale at the history center.

The speaker began his presentation by passing out a list of 62 young men from this area who lost their lives during the war, and then made brief comments regarding a few of them. He explained that his definition of “this area” was arbitrary and that it included 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.”

Next week's column will continue Joe's discussion of the local members of the “Greatest Generation” and their participation in World War II.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or

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