Veterans share stories, memorabilia
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 7:50 p.m.
Area military veterans spent time this week sharing their stories with an area state lawmaker.
“I served my country for two years,” said David Bradley, 71, of White Oak. “I did what I had to do.”
Bradley was in the Army at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia between 1964 and 1966.
“Our unit was a backup for the field projects at the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning,” Bradley recalled.
He and more than 40 other veterans were interviewed on Thursday and Friday at the Jefferson Hills office of Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township.
“I found that (it) was a good opportunity not only to serve my country, but to get training of some value,” said Bradley's wife Barbara, 70, a Marine in 1962-63 at Parris Island, S.C., and Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Some were in combat, some were just in the reserves,” Saccone aide Robin Poirier said. “But all of their stories are compelling.”
A crew from the House Republican Communications office recorded the interviews for a DVD to be shown at Saccone's annual veterans picnic in August.
“Each veteran in attendance will receive one to take home,” Poirier said.
One combat veteran brought things his father made out of a crashed German fighter and from shells and bullets while he was in the Army during World War II. Saccone was so impressed by the propeller John S. Pavlik's father forged into a plaque that he offered to hang it up in the lobby of his office.
Pavlik, 62, of Elizabeth Township also had his own display case of medals earned in service between November 1968 and November 1969 in Vietnam.
“This is the Army commendation, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal,” Pavlik said. There were service and campaign medals from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese, and wings from his work as a crew chief — and as a gunner when he wasn't in the crew chief role.
“I took care of all the maintenance on a helicopter,” Pavlik said. “I was a door gunner when we went into combat.”
His display case includes a medal for expert marksmanship with an M-14 rifle and being a sharpshooter with an M-16.
The Purple Heart came when Pavlik was wounded during an accidental encounter with North Vietnamese forces.
“It was easier for us to unload our ammo cases when they were empty,” Pavlik said. “So we would fire our bullets into a free-fire zone.”
One such “free-fire zone” wasn't free of enemy troops setting up a mortar for a “sapper attack,” an ambush, Pavlik continued.
“They thought we had found them and they shot back,” Pavlik said. “There were 17-18 bullets fired at our helicopter. It knocked out the engine.”
One bullet ricocheted into the craft and struck an aluminum I-beam, sending shrapnel into Pavlik's back and shoulder.
Pavlik said the helicopter crash-landed but others heard its SOS distress call and went in to finish off the enemy unit.
“There were six to eight dead North Vietnamese,” Pavlik recalled.
Pavlik, who attended Glassport High School then was in the first class from the merged South Allegheny High School in 1967, came home from the Army to work for 31 years at U.S. Steel's Clairton plant.
After retiring from the steelmaker, Pavlik taught a Community College of Allegheny County pipe fitter and burning class at Clairton, then for 3½ years he was a consultant to MK Technologies in Butler County.
“I wished I could have worked for (MK's Larry Kotys) the whole 30 years,” Pavlik said.
He had two sons. The younger, Marshall, a senior at Elizabeth Forward High School, “just got an invitation to West Point,” Pavlik said.
The Elizabeth Township resident said his son also is being considered by Carnegie Mellon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“He has a 4.571 grade average,” Pavlik said.
David and Barbara Bradley were graduates of old McKeesport High School, David in 1960, Barbara in 1971. They met at a reunion of graduates at the home of a mutual friend, married and had a son.
They're members of American Legion Post 553 in Elizabeth.
“He was the parade marshal for five years in Elizabeth,” Barbara said of her husband.
Both came home to civilian jobs, Barbara with Verizon for 25 years as an operator, in accounting and with customer service.
She said what she learned in the military contributed to her civilian job.
“You worked with people from all walks of life,” she said. “You had a job to perform and a duty and you just did it.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or email@example.com.
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