Vets share stories for St. Vincent oral history project

| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 5:46 p.m.

The trumpet Julius Falcon played as a kid got him into high school football games for free and through the South Pacific during World War II.

“I loved playing that thing,” said Falcon, who turned 92 on Jan. 16.

Because he was too small to make the Greensburg High School football team, the $9.95 trumpet his father bought at Sears & Roebuck was his ticket into the games as a member of the band. In combat with the Army's 158th Regional Combat Team, the so-called Bushmasters, Falcon used his trumpet skills to make a deal with God.

“I told Him that if He got me through this war, I'd play taps for any veteran's family who wanted me to until I was unable … God kept his promise and I kept mine,” he told researchers at the Center for Northern Appalachian Studies at St. Vincent College who are compiling the stories of veterans for a series of books.

“I've played for a lot of people, but I'm done now,” Falcon told the Tribune-Review. He played taps for more than 4,400 veterans' funerals and memorial services.

The St. Vincent center's fifth and latest book of military histories, “Victorious! From Hometown America to Tokyo Bay: 1941-1945,” will be released in early spring.

In addition to Falcon, the book includes the stories of POW Frank Louis “Hank” Spino, the brother of Dr. Pascal Spino, a well-known Greensburg physician; Bob Mentzer, who owned Rhey and Mentzer Ford; former Jeannette mayor Richard Miaskewicz; Greensburg Fire Chief Ed Hutchinson; and Joseph Weis Jr. of the North Side, who became a federal appeals court judge.

The effort to maintain their histories is important because of “an urgent need to preserve and publish the experiences of the ordinary soldier,” said Richard Wissolik, the center's director.

About 1,800 World War II vets die each day, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates. In Pennsylvania, more than 8,000 died last year.

Beyond the historical importance is the idea of “remembrance,” Wissolik said.

Congress passed a bill authorizing the establishment of a federally sponsored program to gather video and audio recordings of veterans in October 2000.

The project has become a labor of love for the St. Vincent center's staff.

“Through it all, I gained a better understanding of what these men went through,” said John DePaul, one of five general editors on the project. “What it was like to be in a foxhole with lice all over you. These men were really something special.”

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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