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Penn Hills' Laus inducted posthumously into Soldiers & Sailors Hall of Valor

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Rick Laus and his mother, Mary, go through documents from Gene Laus Sr.'s wartime service. Unbeknownst to Mary, Gene had begun chronicling his experiences overseas.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Above, some of Gene Laus Sr.'s medals.

According to Rick Laus, his father, Gene Laus Sr., talked about his military service a lot but did not brag.

“He wasn't the type to say, ‘Oh, I did this' or ‘I did that,'” Laus said.

In fact, Laus said his father mostly had a habit, during dinner, of bringing up a particularly unappetizing story about a meal he ate while on assignment in China, but did not often boast about his military service from 1942 to 1945.

Perhaps he should have, since that service has earned him a place in the Hall of Valor at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

Staff Sgt. Gene Laus Sr., who died in October 2012 at the age of 91, joined the armed forces in 1942, attending Air Force radio school in Illinois and TWA radio school in Missouri before being assigned to the Fourth Combat Cargo Group, 13th Squadron in Syracuse, N.Y., as a radio operator.

His was the first outfit to fly complete tactical and airdrome squadrons to their theater of operation in India, supporting British and Indian forces during the Burma Campaign in World War II.

Afterward, his company flew supplies over dangerous mountain terrain — which they referred to as “The Hump” — to Kunming, the capital of Yunan Province in China.

His service earned him several medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross, which made him eligible for induction into Soldiers & Sailors' Hall of Valor.

Gene's widow, Mary, agreed with her son that Gene loved to talk about his time overseas.

“He really enjoyed being there,” Mary said.

He enjoyed it so much that, unbeknownst to Mary, he'd begun writing down some of his experiences, which his kids eventually found when they were sorting through some of his belongings.

“He talked about being in India, where some of the men had managed to domesticate a hyena,” Laus said.

“It was their guard dog, protecting their camp from thieves. He also watched some of the locals flush a tiger out of the brush. From the time I was 8 years old, he would be telling us all these stories.”

Mary said seeing Gene become a member of the Hall of Valor makes her feel very proud.

“I didn't know a lot of the things he'd done or the medals he had,” she said. “He told me lots of stories, but I didn't know how important they were to him.”

A friend of Gene's at the Penn Hills Senior Center, where he was a frequent visitor, did recognize the importance of the stories, and got the ball rolling for Gene's induction.

“We got a call from this guy, who had seen my dad's medals including the Flying Cross,” Laus said. “He wanted to help make things right for people who were qualified to be in.”

Gene's friend put the family together with Rep. Mike Doyle, whose office began the process of getting Gene into the Hall of Valor.

Laus said he could not be more proud of his dad.

“He deserves it,” he said.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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