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Service honors Mon Valley's veterans

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The anniversary of the 1945 raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, by U.S. Marines was the date chosen to honor Mon Valley military veterans at Holy Resurrection Church in Belle Vernon.

Twenty-six men and women were recognized during the program that followed a church service honoring deceased members of all branches.

The Very Rev. Samuel Smolcic presided at the Moleben, and the choir, directed by Peter Merella, sang responses. Merella also recited The Gettysburg Address.

Parish Council president Jonathan Dudzinski welcomed more than 100 people to the luncheon/program.

Among the visitors at the stirring event were Bishop Melchisedek and Deacon John Oleynik.

There was hardly a dry eye among the listeners as Patti Snodgrass read from the journal her father, John Skurkey, kept while a prisoner of war in World War II.

His writings revealed how he was taken prisoner by the Germans in North Africa and eventually moved from one prison camp to another in Germany.

Two small loaves of bread had to be shared by nine prisoners for a week. Many stories of starvation were recorded.

“At one point we had to use our helmets to hold any food we were given,” he wrote.

“Once we got two eggs from a native and since there was no way to prepare them, we drank them raw.”

In the program book, many stories of bravery and sacrifice were shared about the departed comrades.

Michael Karbowsky received seven battle stars. One was for the Battle of the Bulge.

John Matola died in a prison camp in 1945, and Steve Turpack received the Purple Heart for wounds received in France on July 4, 1944.

Vincent Trotnick, of the U.S. Army, witnessed Benito Mussolini and his mistress hanging in a square in Italy.

The five sons of Charles Sr. and Anna Yusko of Fayette City served their country. Charles Jr., George, John and Michael entered World War II in 1942 and Joseph, a member of the U.S. Air Force from 1949 to 1973, served in Vietnam and Korea.

There was one light-hearted story.

Army cook Anthony Miralles of Monessen was with the 40th Infantry Division in Korea in 1952 when he heard suspicious noises outside the kitchen tent.

Miralles grabbed his gun and snuck out expecting to meet a sniper.

Instead, it was a pheasant that Miralles promptly shot and roasted for their evening meal.

Tony Bertram presented the 26 veterans present with pins donated by the Mon Valley Long Beards of the National Turkey Federation.

Toni Costella conducted the MIA-POW remembrance ceremony. Martha Zeli, who coordinated the event, read “I Am a Veteran,” copies of which were given to all present.

Guest speaker the Very Rev. Fred Pfeil, a 25-year Navy veteran, said he had been an Episcopalian but later joined the Orthodox faith.

After ordination, he served in Greek and Russian churches and is now pastor of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Monessen.

Remarks were offered by Melchizedek and Smolcic, and the event closed with the National Anthem.

Zeli said Holy Resurrection Church donated $1,000, and individual parishioners gave contributions making it possible that $550 from goodwill offerings that day will all be given to the Wounded Warrior Project.