Veterans remembered, honored in local events
Retired Lt. Col. Nick Edinger remembers his time in Vietnam as if it happened yesterday.
A platoon leader with the 34th S&S Battalion in 1969 and 1970, he was responsible for warehouses operated by the Army Field Depot near the mouth of the Han River in DaNang. Nearly 9,000 miles from home, the Easton native found himself far from almost everything he had known. But what he didn't immediately realize was that Bob Anckaitis — one of his best friends since kindergarten — also was serving in the country. Now retired, Lt. Col. Anckaitis was an artillery fire direction officer and executive officer on fire bases for the 101st Airborne Division.
“We were both in supporting roles for combat operations at virtually the same time,” Edinger said. “Neither of us knew the other was there.”
But to hear the intriguing story about how the longtime friends eventually found each other amidst the chaos of war, you'll need to be in the community room of the Jefferson Hills municipal building at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. That's when the West Jefferson Hills Historical Society will present its annual Veterans Day program — just one of many planned during the next week for the Mon-Yough and South Hills regions.
The holiday on Monday gives veterans like Edinger, 68, of Jefferson Hills and Anckaitis of Bethlehem an opportunity to share their stories, reflect on memories and honor those who have since fallen.
“It's a way for people to show their respect and appreciation for people who served their country,” Edinger said. “I still meet a lot of people who you don't realize are veterans until you talk to them. Nobody thanks them for their service.”
Edinger said that's why he and Anckaitis began doing their presentation about three or four years ago — as a way to share what it was really like to be a soldier during wartime in a hostile country.
“We don't talk about the politics of the war, tactics or strategies, and we don't tell stories about battle,” Edinger said. “But what we do talk about is our personal experiences — what we did and how we lived.”
Aided by slides and a vocal performance by Elizabeth Forward High School student Mattie Winowitch, the pair believe their program offers something for everyone of all ages.
“Bob and I are both very sincere about serving our country and we feel, like many others, that we did something worthwhile with our lives,” Edinger said. “I think it's important to share those experiences — especially with the younger kids.”
But while this program doesn't take place until Wednesday, there are plenty of other Veterans Day events and activities planned in the region throughout the week including a parade organized by the McKeesport Veterans Activities Association at 10:30 a.m. on Monday. The parade route runs from the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Huey Street along Joe Bendel Way, circling under the Jerome Street Bridge and finishing in the parking lot near the war memorial where a service will take place at 11. The group will honor Peter Berletic, a McKeesport native, World War II veteran and former director of secondary education at South Allegheny School District who died in August.
Following the downtown event, at approximately 12:15 p.m., the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club along Ravine Street will conduct its 47th annual Veterans Day ceremonies.
The club has one of the oldest memorials to the nation's service in Vietnam, honoring 11 members who died in action there. Honorees are Norman Johnson, Michael Nemchick, James Brooks Jr., Tyrone Burse, James West, Gregory Popowitz, Curtis Gay, Thomas Sweeny, Louis Huff II, John Germek Jr. and Lee Thomas.
In all, 23 McKeesport residents died in action in Vietnam.
The ceremonies will be led by club treasurer and veterans affairs chairman Walt Yager, board president Tom Maglicco and executive director Jim Barry. Various local, county and state officials are invited, as well as members of the late club founder Sam LaRosa's family and friends and relatives of the 11 club members.
Other events planned for the area include:
• Steel Valley School District will host a program at 8:45 a.m. on Friday in the high school. There will be music performed by students along with the announcement of winners of veteran-themed poster and essay contests. Local Korean War veteran Francis McGuire will be honored.
• West Mifflin police will host a ceremony at 9 a.m. on Friday in the auditorium of West Mifflin Area High School.
• McKeesport Area School District will present a multi-media presentation and musical tribute to veterans at 9:30 a.m. on Friday at the high school. Light refreshments will be provided.
• New Emerson Elementary School will host a Veteran's Day program at 1:30 p.m. on Friday at the school.
• South Allegheny Middle/Senior High School will present a program at 9:30 a.m. on Monday at the school. There will be a multimedia presentation, performances by the middle school band and chorus and speeches by veterans Mark Suckfiel — a staff sergeant stationed in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom II — and Rae Zurovcik — who served in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer regiment of the British Army during World War II. A reception for veterans will follow.
• The South Allegheny Early Childhood Center will host a program at 11 a.m. on Monday in the school's courtyard. Lunch for veterans will follow.
• The Thomas Jefferson High School choir will perform at Wintzell's Oyster House along E. Bruceton Road at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.
•Irwin/North Huntingdon VFW Post 781 will present a program at 11 a.m. on Monday at the post home. Music will be provided by the Norwin High School orchestra string quartet and an invocation will be presented by VFW Chaplain Biz Watson. William Snyder, the great-nephew of the post's namesake, J. Howard Snyder — the first person from the Irwin area to be killed in action during World War I — will speak about his great-uncle. Lunch will follow.
• Duquesne VFW Post 188 will conduct a ceremony at the post home along Second Street at 1 p.m. on Monday. The West Mifflin Area High School Junior ROTC will participate. Lunch will follow.
• Glassport American Legion Post 443 will host a ceremony at 1 p.m. on Monday in the social hall. Lunch will follow.
• White Oak American Legion Post 701 will hold a luncheon at 1 p.m. on Monday at the post home.
• The Elizabeth Forward High School music department will host a Veterans Day concert at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the high school auditorium. Admission is free.
Staff Writer Patrick Cloonan contributed to this story. Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.