Book offers stories of local World War II heroes
Bob Percy was just a kid at the height of World War II, but the subject and especially those who served in the war was always of great interest to him.
There were stories to tell of local people who were involved and the former history and social studies teacher at Southmoreland High School wanted to make sure they were told.
They now have been in Percy's book “Profiles of Service and Sacrifice,” with the subtitle “Citizens of Scottdale and Vicinity at War 1941-1945.” The tales of 20 World War II veterans are woven, complete with numerous pictures. In fact, each chapter is titled “In Tribute” to its subject. Eight of those depicted in the book are still alive.
Percy, 82, said conversations took place with 17 of the 20, while family members of Bill Hernley, Harold Claycomb and Jim Rowe supplied details of their experiences.
“There's quite a variety. Each one of them stands on their own,” Percy said. “There's a lot there that indicates just how important these guys were. They were very articulate. They're memories were very good. It's etched in their mind. Every one of them exhibited a humility.”
Others covered in the book are: Don Zimmerman, Ray Kiefer, Jim Tallentire, Sam Bair, Nevin Stiltenpole, Ed Sknerski, John (Wally) Schroyer, Mimi Finnerty, Carl Smith, Art Grimm, Mike Fail, Joe Pepe, Bob Clark, John D'Ambrosio, George Sebey, Bill Mehallick and Edward Donner.
Percy said in his younger days he became aware of many of those profiled through their exploits in various endeavors, such as sports.
“That gave me sort of an idea early on in following these guys through the war,” Percy said. “That sort of planted the seeds of what we wanted to do....I'm glad it's out there for people to see.”
The veterans are listed in the book in chronological order of how their stories appeared in The Independent-Observer.
“I had planned to do Ray (Kiefer) and that was it,” Percy said about the first story to appear in the paper. “Then I thought, ‘I have a lot of these recordings that I think the public should be exposed to. It's very important. If I don't do it, it's not going to be done.' So we went ahead and built on the series and it seemed to snowball and we came up to 20.”
Hernley's story tells of the first Scottdale military personnel to lose his life in military action. He was returning from a successful bombing mission when German Luftwaffe fighter planes shot down his air craft on Feb. 15, 1943.
“Bill Hernley did not reach his 21st birthday,” Percy said. “His sacrifice is a powerful reminder authored by the greatest generation and passed on to all generations that desire to be free. Freedom is not free.”
Finnerty is the lone woman profiled in the book. She served as a nurse in the war.
“She faced possibly the most difficult situation of all in the extermination camps of the Nazis,” Percy said.
”Profiles of Service and Sacrifice” is a completely local project. Scottdale Bank and Trust provided financial support and Stefano's Printing Company helped with production.
The book sells for $20, with all proceeds going to the Scottdale Library, where the book is available.
“I'm thrilled,” said Patti Miller, library director. “It's beautifully done, it's professionally done, so meticulously researched. That's no surprise to me knowing Mr. Percy, knowing how he taught his students. We've been talking about this project for years and years. It was his life goal to see that these (people) were immortalized. Once you pick up that book you can't put it down, until you've read the whole thing. It's amazing. These men and women walked the streets of Scottdale for years and know one knew what they went through.”
Patti's husband, Matt, actually was a student of Percy's. His story about Donner, which stems from an interview Miller did with Donner, is included in the book.
“He interviewed Rev. Donner when he was in high school,” Percy said of Miller.
Percy also credited Doug Wilkin, of Wilkin Audio Company of Edgewood, for his efforts in transcribing many of the interviews from reel-to-reel tape to CDs. They should be available at the library in the near future.
“We have 11 CDs now of the 20,” Percy said. “We plan to put the CDs in the library so the readers can actually listen to the voices of these individuals.”
Percy doesn't have another project planned of local military heroes, but he doesn't rule it out.
“Maybe in the future another series could be started, but at this point there's nothing planned in that respect,” Percy said. “It would be hard to put something together in that respect. The one enemy we have is time. But other than that it's feasible to run another series. We have enough to form a nucleus of what we need. This group of 20 gives us a good picture of what the average fighting man was all about in World War II. When they talk about the greatest generation, they are correct.”
Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.