Hall of Valor honors 14 in state who served

Debra Erdley
| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 10:38 p.m.

They numbered 14 in all — men from different decades, different wars, different services, some living, some among the honored dead.

As of Sunday, each had a place of honor among the region's heroes as new inductees in the Soldiers & Sailors Hall of Valor.

The ceremony, held in conjunction with the opening of the Oakland military museum's start of a Medal of Honor exhibit, celebrated local heroes whose service ranged from World War II to Afghanistan.

Thelma Ruggiero, 89, of Aspinwall was on hand to remember her brother Gene Laus, a World War II staff sergeant in the Army Air Forces who died in October, less than six months before the ceremony that celebrated his service as a radio operator on a C-47 supply plane ferrying troops and supplies from India to China over the deadly terrain in Burma from May through July 1945.

The petite woman pointed proudly to a set of silver wings on the lapel of her navy blue suit.

“My brother sent me this from India when I was 19,” Ruggiero said. “He won the Distinguished Flying Cross. I wish he were alive today. He would have been 92 in January.”

1st Lt. Michael Kravontka, who grew up in the Indiana County village of Coral, also had a younger sister praying for him when he left to serve in the Army in France during World War II.

“I was 14 when he went to war. I wrote him letters every day,” said Elizabeth Yantos of Greensburg.

Kravontka, who won a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, died on Jan. 1, 2012. Yantos pushed forward with the paperwork that earned him a place in the Hall of Valor, where he was honored for his service as a rifle platoon leader who led his platoon through a deadly battle in Albestross, France, in 1944.

Kravontka, Laus and 12 others, including Marine Corps Sgt. David Gerardi, 22, of Moon, who was honored for heroism in Afghanistan, join nearly 700 Pennsylvanians — recipients of medals for bravery and heroism in times of conflict — who have been inducted into the Hall of Valor since 1963.

“The Hall of Valor reflects the core purpose of our mission to honor and remember those Pennsylvanians who have gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Soldiers & Sailors president and CEO John F. McCabe said.

If it takes a while, that's fine, said Dennis Walker of Perryopolis.

“All good things take time,” Walker said.

The thin, soft-spoken, 63-year-old veteran was inducted into the hall for his service in Vietnam in 1970. As a 20-year-old Army sergeant, he received the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star for gallantry for his actions after his company was pinned down in a firefight while on a reconnaissance mission.

“If I had a wand, I'd wave it and eliminate the Vietnam War,” Walker said. “But I wouldn't give up my time there for anything. It's true what they say about the Band of Brothers.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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