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Oyler: Bridgeville Historical Society focuses on the 'Home Front'

| Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, 3:30 p.m.

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society program schedule started on a positive note with a presentation on the “Home Front” during World War II by Todd DePastino last month.

An expert on American history, he specializes in the mid-20th century.

He is an adjunct professor at several local universities, the author of six books dealing with that period and a popular lecturer. He is founder and executive director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing veterans' stories with the public.

Although the presentation was applicable to the whole Western Pennsylvania area, many of his examples were from Dormont and Mt. Lebanon. This motivated the older folks in the audience to compare and contrast his examples with their experience in Bridgeville.

He talked about the various drives to collect materials for use in the war effort.

We remembered collecting scrap metal, paper, cooking fat, milkweed pods and cigarette paper. When he showed a photo of a scrap drive by a Junior Commando unit in Dormont, we were reminded of the memorable day when Eddie Croft drafted all of us in grade school into the Junior Commandos.

We were excited the next day, when the Pittsburgh paper printed a photograph of a mob of kids in the downstairs hallway of Washington School. Eddie then was commissioned a colonel in the Junior Commandos, an appellation that stuck with him long after the end of the war.

Rationing of critical items had a major effect on the Home Front. Victory gardens helped out, too; Mr. DePastino reported that 40 percent of the vegetables consumed during the war were home grown.

The speaker reported significant opposition in this area to our entering the war, opposition that disappeared after Pearl Harbor. I have no recollection of any organized opposition in Bridgeville, although, certainly, we Republicans were skeptical about the intentions of “that man in the White House” once he had been re-elected for a third term in 1940.

Mr. DePastino mentioned the large number of air-raid wardens who were recruited locally during World War II and suggested that the entire Civil Defense effort was wildly over exaggerated, primarily being a patriotic/morale booster. Today, the fact that teenage boys and elderly men climbed Hickman's Hill to sit all night in a shed and watch for German and Japanese aircraft does seem absurd.

Nonetheless, my memories of the early days of the war still are dominated by fear. We believed that the future of our country and our way of life was in jeopardy. It wasn't till well after D-Day that we began to believe we would survive. I doubt that the folks living on the East Coast, watching oil tankers burn after U-Boat attacks would agree that danger to our homeland was exaggerated.

The contribution of the “Greatest Generation” cannot be ignored in any discussion of World War II. According to my brother's book, “Almost Forgotten,” 58 men from the Bridgeville/South Fayette area lost their lives in World War II. Since its publication, he has learned of four more. We have no idea how many men and women from this area went to war in those days; we suspect it was well above the average for the rest of our country.

The speaker illustrated his presentation with examples of oral histories he has acquired through the Veterans Breakfast Club meetings. Each was dramatic and nearly incredible. His practice of recording real history from veterans who lived it is extremely valuable to those of us who have an interest in that era. We hope the historical society will make interviewing local area World War II veterans a high priority, while they still are with us and capable of telling us their stories.

This priority was highlighted to me by the recent passing of Ed Schneider, a true representative of the Greatest Generation. We know he had valuable memories of his service in the South Pacific, memories we should have recorded for posterity. He was a fine human being, one whose life after the war was filled with positive achievements.

The next program meeting for the historical society will be Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. My brother and I will discuss Dr. William Shadish and his heroic experiences as a prisoner of war in Korea.

The presentation is based on his book, “When Hell Froze Over.” We have decided to title it “Dr. William Shadish, an American Hero.”

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

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