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Donora family's military service to U.S. covered three generations

| Friday, July 4, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
From left, Michael A. Beresh II, Michael A. Beresh and Michael Beresh gathered during a veterans program at Ringgold High School in 1999.
Michael A. Beresh II
Michael A. Beresh

In the 500 block of McKean Avenue this week, crews began to hang the first of scores of banners on borough streets in honor of Donora's veterans.

“Many people are reflecting on what their parents and relatives have done for our country, and they are learning a lot that they did not know about their level of service,” said businessman Gene Svrcek.

Earlier this year, Svrcek approached Terry Gnora, commander of American Legion Post 212 in Donora, and Mayor John Lignelli about establishing the tributes.

“It's enabling siblings and family members to discuss history and take pride in their family's part in that history,” Svrcek said.

The project already has 100 sponsorships. Over the next two to three weeks, those banners will be displayed.

Among those being honored are men representing three generations of the Beresh family, all of whom served in combat zones.

Michael A. Beresh was born in Easton, Pa., even though his family was living in Belvidere, N.J., at the time. Originally from Donora, the family moved east so his father could find work at a munitions company.

“They wanted me to be born in Pennsylvania, so they went across the Delaware River and I was born in Easton,” Michael A. Beresh said.

When he was a toddler, the family moved back to Donora. Beresh is a member of the Mon Valley Catholic High School Class of 1961 – the school's first graduating class.

After one year at Penn State University, Beresh transferred to California Teachers College, graduating in 1966. While student teaching, he received his draft notice.

After basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Beresh received administration training at Fort Benning, Ga. In 1967, he was shipped to Vietnam.

Beresh was there in January 1968 when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive.

“I didn't go into the rice paddies or on patrol. I was what they called a morning report specialist,” said Beresh, who received top security clearance at Fort Benning.

“It meant that all company clerks sent their rosters and information to me and other morning report guys,” Beresh said.

“We received all of the morning reports from all over Vietnam. We had to code them to key punchers, which were sent to Hawaii and then to the Pentagon. I knew all of our strengths, all of our maneuvers from all over Vietnam.”

Beresh was stationed at Long Binh near Saigon, the largest military installation in Vietnam.

The base was targeted by mortar fire during the Tet Offensive, and U.S. troops at Long Binh had to secure the base perimeter.

“They made me company runner,” Beresh said. “I was the tallest and I had to run to the perimeter and take out information or food to guys on perimeter.”

Never wounded, he was discharged in July 1968.

“I spent half my military career in Vietnam,” he said. “That was before the lottery. They just wanted bodies.”

When he returned home, Beresh taught civics and American and world history at Ringgold High School.

“Vietnam came up in class lessons occasionally,” Beresh said. “Some students wanted to know how many I killed, and I had to explain my role.”

Legacy established

Years earlier, Michael Beresh's father – also Michael, but with no middle initial – served with distinction in the Army.

The elder Beresh served from 1936 to 1940. He was assigned to the U.S. 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Myer, Va., one of the last cavalry units.

“He always used to tell me how he had to take better care of the horse than himself,” Michael A. Beresh said.

The patriarch of the Beresh family also guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“He saw Franklin Roosevelt come and place a wreath on the Tomb Of Unknown Soldier,” Michael A. Beresh said.

Discharged from the Army in 1940, the elder Beresh joined the Navy shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which drew the United States into World War II. He served until 1945. A member of the armed crew aboard the liberty ship SS John Cropper, Seaman 1st Class Michael Beresh served in southern France, North Africa and Italy.

“They guarded troops going in,” Michael A. Beresh said of his father. “He was a gunner's mate on the ship.”

His father earned a Bronze Star, although Michael A. Beresh admits he has no record of his father's courageous action.

After World War II, Michael Beresh worked in the Donora Zinc Works and later the U.S. Steel Irvin Works in Dravosburg, retiring in 1977. Now 96, Michael Beresh resides in Thorpe Personal Care Home in North Charleroi.

Third generation

Michael A. Berish II was inducted into the U.S. Navy in 1989, a year after he graduated from Ringgold High School.

He served 10 years in the Navy and then four in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Michael A. Beresh II was in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. His father recalled the day Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

“He called me that morning and said, ‘Well, there's going to be a war … ,” Michael A. Beresh said of his son.

Michael A. Beresh II was aboard the USS Normandy when it fired 13 Tomahawk missiles into Bosnia in 1995.

Michael A. Beresh recognized the special role three generations of his family have played in serving America.

“You don't find that too often,” Michael A. Beresh said. “All three us were in combat zones – my son was in the Gulf, I was in Vietnam and my dad was in World War II.”

Beresh said the Fourth of July has special meaning for his family.

“This is our country's day of independence,” Michael A. Beresh said. “Independence Day should be every day, not just July 4.

“It is such an important holiday, and all of us should be patriotic and show our patriotism the best way we can.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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