Elizabeth Twp. resident receives medals for service during World War II
Gerard Driscoll was never shy about serving his country, spending a combined 16 years in the Army and Merchant Marines.
But he never received full recognition for his service until Friday, in a special service in Elizabeth conducted by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Driscoll grew up in Versailles Township, now White Oak, and enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1944.
“I tried joining the Navy at age 16, but they said, ‘Come back boy when you're old enough.'” Driscoll recalled.
So he hitchhiked to Cleveland and got job on the Great Lakes, working in the engine room of a ship as coal passer.
Driscoll joined the Merchant Marines and was sent to Oakland, Calif. In 1944, he was assigned to a ship and sent to the South Pacific for the duration of the war.
From Hawaii, he participated in a series of invasions — at Saipan, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Although Driscoll was never wounded, the duty still came with high risks — their ship carried ammunition and high octane gas. From the engine room, he could hear kamikazes flying overhead as naval guns tried to blast them out of the sky before they carried out their suicide missions.
“We were young, foolish and didn't give a damn,” Driscoll said.
He was aboard ship when the Marines planted the flag on Iwo Jima. Driscoll was on his way home when Japan surrendered.
He served in the Merchant Marines from 1944 to 1948. After that, he joined the U.S. Army and completed basic training at Fort Ord, Calif., before being sent overseas.
“I spent four Christmases in Germany,” Driscoll said.
Discharged in 1952, Driscoll rejoined the Merchant Marines in 1952. He stayed in that branch of the service until 1957, when he got married.
Driscoll worked at the U.S. Steel Irvin Works in West Mifflin. Eventually laid off for 19 months, Driscoll went back to sea.
“I was in Texas on a ship when I got called to go back to the mill,” Driscoll said. “When the ship got to Philadelphia, I went home and back into the mill.”
Driscoll retired after 32 years in the mill. Now 87, he lives in Elizabeth Township.
He is president of the Mon Valley Merchant Marines Association.
He was one of a family of six brothers who served their country — one in the Navy, and two each in the Merchant Marines and Army Air Corps.
Receipt of his long overdue citations began when Driscoll took his credentials to Murphy's Greensburg office.
“It's been 68 years that they've been waiting for me,” Driscoll said of the federal government.
In Elizabeth Friday to tour flood damage from earlier in the week, Murphy invited Driscoll to meet him at the borough's downtown veterans memorial for the medals ceremony.
State Rep. Rick Saccone and Elizabeth Council President Monica Douglas-Glowinski were also on hand for the ceremony.
“It was 68 years late, but we got it done,” Murphy added. “We thought it was a fitting tribute to do it down there at the war memorial. That's where the names of lot of citizens who are veterans are listed. We thought it was fitting to honor him down there.”
Driscoll said Merchant Marines are finally getting the recognition they deserve for their service.
“After the second World War, we received nothing — we couldn't even get a (GI) loan,” Driscoll said. “We were civilians, but we didn't realize it.”
Driscoll was eligible for the Merchant Marine Emblem, Victory Medal and Bar, Honorable Service Button, Presidential Testimonial Letter, Atlantic War Zone Bar and Medal, Pacific War Zone Bar and Medal, and the Mediterranean Middle East War Zone Bar and Medal.
Murphy said issuing such medals helps bring closure for veterans and their families.
“Especially for a lot of Vietnam vets who came home, put their uniforms away and went back to work,” Murphy said. “A lot of family members want to bring some closure.”
Murphy joined the Naval Reserves in 2009.
He was a practicing psychologist prior to winning election to the Pennsylvania Senate in 1996 and the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002.
Murphy said he felt it was fitting for him to join the reserves because he was voting to send young men and women to war, and the services had a severe shortage of mental health professionals to treat service personnel. He works out at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., at the traumatic brain and post traumatic injury center.
While many combat veterans store away their memories, presenting them with the citations they earned is a way to bring some closure, Murphy said.
“These ceremonies are always very moving,” Murphy said. “You could see in his eyes that this was a very important moment in his life. It's important to these vets to give them some closure.
“It's important for our country to show a sign of gratitude.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.