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Penn Township man receives medals from World War II service

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 11:48 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
John Bertone, who turned 94 on Jan. 3, celebrates his family birthday party on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 at Bella Mimi’s Restaurant in Jeannette with a surprise from Congressman Tim Murphy, who honored Bertone with combat medals earned during his time with the Army in World War II.

Nearly 70 years after John Bertone was discharged from his World War II Army service, the Penn Township man on Sunday received a collection of medals for his service, including the Bronze Star for valor.

When Bertone arrived home from the war in 1945, he didn't want to wait around to pick up his medals. He returned to his fiancee, Helen, whom he married about a month later.

On their wedding day, she wore a cascading floor-length bridal gown fashioned from an Italian silk parachute her bridegroom had sent home. The couple got engaged on Pearl Harbor Day, unaware until that evening of the day's earth-shaking news.

In recognition of Bertone's service, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, presented him with several medals during a surprise reception at Bella Mimi's Restaurant in Jeannette.

Bertone, 94, was a member of the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division who spent the entirety of the campaign in Italy, where the private served in the machine gun division and quickly picked up the Italian language.

“Those that served in the 34th Infantry Division have a special story to tell,” Murphy said.

The division, dubbed the “Red Bulls,” saw “bitter fighting” and sustained many casualties. Its motto was “fight fight fight or attack attack attack,” Murphy said.

“They participated in six major Army campaigns,” Murphy said. “I want you to know how significant the work was of the division he served in.”

Louis Lazzaro, an Army veteran and Murphy's deputy chief of staff, presented Bertone with the Bronze Star.

“This award reflects great credit,” Lazzaro said. “(It is) presented with pride from a grateful nation.”

Bertone saluted, and about 50 family members and friends, many of them sniffling with emotion, lauded him with a standing ovation.

The Bronze Star “would be given to somebody who had been in significant combat” and who exhibited “heroic and meritorious achievement,” Murphy said.

“For someone like him, I think it's important to have that (medal) pinned on him,” Murphy said.

Bertone also received a Good Conduct award, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge 1st Award, Expert Badge with Field Artillery Bar with Rifle Bar, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, a United States flag from Congress and a certificate in recognition of his 94th birthday.

Bertone turned 94 on Friday, and his daughter-in-law Pat turned 65 on Dec. 29.

“This is all a surprise for me. It was supposed to be a birthday party for Patricia,” Bertone said after receiving his medals. “Thank you very much for everything.”

While friends enveloped Bertone in hugs, an accordionist and drummer played “God Bless America.”

After the war, Bertone worked as a machinist at Mine Safety Appliances. Bertone and his late wife had two children, Greg and Susan.

Pat, Greg's wife, said she contacted Murphy's office seeking the missing medals after John Bertone asked about them.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 orrskena@tribweb.com.

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