History repeats itself for Sewickley area military family

| Thursday, July 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

History has a way of repeating itself.

For one family, that history came in the form of two chance meetings in the military a little more than 70 years apart.

By the time Eugene Vish, now 90, was old enough to join the Army, his brother, Renaldo Vish, had already been serving in the Air Force for about two years.

“He's about 3 or 4 years older than I am, so he got in one of the first drafts,” Eugene said.

“As soon as they put the drafts on the board in 1941, the first name out was his.”

Two years later, when Eugene was draft-eligible, he registered. But an appendicitis attack and subsequent operation sidelined him for six months, and he didn't go into the service until the following year.

Not long after, Eugene received a letter from Renaldo telling him that he would be going overseas for a while, but wasn't able to share where. He said he'd be in touch.

Around the same time, Eugene also received orders that he, too, would be going overseas. In a letter back to Renaldo he joked, “see you aboard ship.”

When Eugene and his unit boarded the U.S.S. George Washington, they were told they would serve as military police during the trip overseas.

“So a buddy of mine was on the gangplank, and he saw this soldier coming up carrying a barracks bag with the name ‘Vish' on it” and was asked if he had a brother Gene. He did. Renaldo was told that his brother would come find him after he got off duty that day.

“I put my MP (military police) band back on and went looking for him. I asked ship officers to find out where he was and he was down on deck seven, which is about 20 to 30 feet below the water line,” he said.

Once Eugene found his brother, Renaldo “went bananas.” The men hadn't seen each other for at least two years.

For the next two weeks Eugene would use his status as a military police officer to go get Renaldo and bring him upstairs each day.

“I didn't want him below the water line in case of a torpedo strike. Up on the first deck, you have a chance to get overboard,” Eugene said.

Eugene explained that the U.S.S. George Washington was the flagship of the convoy protected by destroyers and warships because it had 5,000 soldiers aboard. He said at one point the ship was forced to sit in the ocean for three days without the protection of the other ships as a propeller was repaired. The convoy could not wait, and they were left easy targets for enemy attack.

When their ship finally arrived in Southampton, England, it would be the last time then brothers saw each other until both arrived home safely after World War II.

Eugene said it was a miracle that he would be on the same ship as his brother let alone run into him while aboard a ship of 5,000 soldiers.

“It was words beyond explanation. You can't use them when you see your brother, you're both on the same ship, heading in the same direction, going to fight a big war.

“You could not write the story and have someone believe it,” he said.

What may be even more unbelievable is that a similar encounter happened more than a half century later when Eugene's grandson, Marine Cpl. Ian Valenzi of Sewickley, and Renaldo's grandson, Marine Lt. Christopher Vish of Sewickley, ran into each other in May while serving in Afghanistan.

“They were in the chow line (at Camp Leatherneck),” said Maureen Valenzi, Ian's mother and Eugene's daughter.

“They were shocked,” Valenzi said. “My whole family was like, ‘You've got to be kidding me.'”

Ian Valenzi is expected to return to the U.S. at the end of summer, his mother said.

Though she said they didn't get to spend a lot of time together, the cousins made sure to get a photo together to send back home to their families and to document family history.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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