Putting a wrap on look back at Bridgeville in war years

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

This is the second of two columns reporting on the final presentation of our “Bridgeville Remembered” series, which dealt with life in our community in the 1940s. It continues with my brother's discussion of the participation of local servicemen in World War II.

Robert Randolph grew up on Baldwin Street. He was killed in Italy in November 1944, while serving with the 370th Infantry Regiment, a segregated (African-American) unit. The Randolph-Simpson American Legion Post, founded in 1946, was named for him and for Ronald Simpson, who died in Italy in March 1945. It is ironic that members of segregated military units during World War II found it necessary to form a segregated Legion post after the war.

Elmer Straka played end on the 1942 BHS Championship team before graduating and entering the service. He was killed in France in December 1944 while serving with the 346th Infantry Regiment. “Almost Forgotten” contains a poignant letter from a priest to Elmer's mother, reporting his passing. It is difficult to not get emotional whenever you read details about these men or look at their photographs and realize the tragedy of their deaths.

Lawrence Schollaert, a resident of Sturgeon, was serving in the Army when he was killed on Biak Island in March 1945. When Joe was researching for his project, he asked his friend Ed Schneider, who had served in the Pacific, if he knew the location of Biak Island. Ed replied that, not only had he been on Biak, he was there when Private Schollaert was killed during a Japanese air raid.

Not all the fatalities occurred during combat. Louis McCool was an aviation cadet in pilot training in Florida when he was killed in a plane crash in early 1944. A few months later his brother, Lawrence, lost his life when the bomber he was piloting was shot down in Italy. What a price the McCool family paid.

David Wayne Carson lost his life when the B-17 Flying Fortress he was piloting crashed in Sicily in November 1943 on the way back to a base in Africa following a raid on Athens, Greece. He was a member of the 15th Air Force. The Carson family lived on Church Street; he was a graduate of BHS who had worked for the Vanadium Corporation before the war.

Joe ended his part of the presentation on a positive note with the story of three Baldwin Street neighborhood airmen in Europe who were shot down, became prisoners of war and ended up in the same POW camp, Stalag Luft IV. Two of them were cousins — George Shady and George Abood. Both men were gunners on B-24 Liberators, based in England.

Pete Calabro was a gunner on a B-17 shot down over Budapest in September 1944 and eventually ended up in the same POW camp as his neighbors Abood and Shady. All three survived captivity and returned home to their grateful families. The contributions of all the members of “the Greatest Generation” must never be forgotten.

The years following the end of the war were filled with optimism. The “war to make the world safe for democracy” had been won, and we were in for an era of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately no one bothered to give this information to Josef Stalin and Chairman Mao. GIs returning from Europe brought predictions that we would be back fighting the Communists in a few years. Then came the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Airlift, the Red Revolution in China, and finally, in 1950, Korea.

Nonetheless the postwar years in Bridgeville were pleasant. Thanks to the GI Bill, hundreds of returning servicemen and women were given the opportunity for a college education, something most of them would have been unable to afford otherwise. New homes were built at a record pace and many new families begun.

The high school continued to be the cultural center of Bridgeville. athletic events, concerts and school plays were community-wide events. The 1948 and 1949 football seasons brought WPIAL Class B championships to add to the one previously won in 1942.

The speaker showed pictures of these teams, of Boy Scout Troop 245; of Skip Batch's “Indians,” an award-winning drum and bugle corps; and of various local landmarks to exemplify the era.

This was the final presentation in this series; we have enjoyed it immensely and are grateful to the folks who attended them and to the contributions they made to our stockpile of Bridgeville area history.

We are particularly grateful to Joyce Heinrich and Donna Taylor of the Bridgeville Public Library for organizing this series.

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

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