Scottdale man survived 90 combat bombing missions in two wars |
Obituary Stories

Scottdale man survived 90 combat bombing missions in two wars

Stephen Huba
John L. Kalish

John Kalish flew so many combat missions in World War II that he reached the maximum number allowed.

Still in flight school on D-Day, Mr. Kalish was a navigator on 35 missions in the Mediterranean theater in 1944 and 1945.

He got called back to active duty during the Korean War and flew another 55 missions as a navigator and bombardier.

“Medically, he didn’t have to go (to Korea) but, once he was called, he was going,” said his nephew Kevin Rorke. “That was his sense of duty to our country.”

John L. Kalish, of Scottdale, died on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2019, at Woodcrest Senior Living Estates, East Huntingdon. He was 95.

Born in Smithton on Aug. 16, 1924, he was a son of the late John A. and Josephine (Kotouch) Kalish. He graduated from South Huntingdon High School and worked for a short time at U.S. Steel plants in Homestead and Donora before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

He was assigned to the 15th Air Force and flew with the 99th Bomb Group out of Tortorella Air Field near Foggia, Italy. He served as a navigator on a B-17 Flying Fortress, with targets in Northern Italy, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary.

“He was the one that got a lot of people home because he knew what he was doing. He was a top-notch navigator,” said Rorke, who interviewed his uncle about his military record.

“As navigator, he always brought his squad home,” said his daughter, Patricia Kaniuga.

One time, he missed a mission because of a rotation change, and that was one mission when the plane didn’t return.

“That’s how lucky he was,” Rorke said. “He was very fortunate that he wasn’t a casualty.”

After the Korean War, he did stints at Kirkland Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base, both in New Mexico. He retired from active military service as a lieutenant colonel.

After retirement, he worked as a civilian engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Although, like many World War II veterans, Mr. Kalish was reluctant to talk about his military service, later in life he agreed to be interviewed.

“He wanted his story to be told at the end,” Rorke said.

In the 1970s, he bought a farm in Jones Mills and farmed about 45 acres, his daughters said. He especially loved riding his tractor and baling hay, something he did until he was 85.

“If he wasn’t on it, he was working on it,” Kaniuga said. “He was just a remarkable man.”

Mr. Kalish was preceded in death by his first wife of 44 years, Betty (Eiford) Kalish; two brothers; and five sisters.

He is survived by his wife, Marcene (Kemp) White; two daughters, Pamela Kalish and Patricia Kaniuga; and a stepson and stepdaughter.

A memorial service was held on Saturday at Indian Head Church of God. Internment took place on Monday at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies, Bridgeville, with full military honors.

The Robert B. Ferguson Funeral Home, Scottdale, was in charge of arrangements.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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