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Obituary Stories

Greensburg WWII POW devoted life to country, family

Jacob Tierney
| Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, 4:54 p.m.
Alvin D. Murtha of Greensburg, formerly of Indiana, died Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. He was 94.
Alvin D. Murtha of Greensburg, formerly of Indiana, died Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. He was 94.

The first and last time Alvin Murtha jumped out of an airplane, it was being shot out of the sky over Germany.

The Army Air Force bombardier never practiced parachuting during his training — he only read about it in a manual.

He survived his parachuting crash course, only to be captured by the Germans.

He was held as a prisoner of war for months during World War II before being liberated by the Allies. During that time he lost almost 50 pounds.

When the Allied planes came, he and his fellow prisoners spelled out “POW” on the ground in massive letters made of toilet paper so their rescuers wouldn’t mistakenly bomb the building they were in.

Mr. Murtha survived the war, came home to his young wife and went on to raise the family that meant the world to him.

“He had it tough, but he still kept his sense of humor,” said his daughter, Jeanne Zelenak. “He didn’t let it destroy him.”

Alvin D. Murtha of Greensburg, formerly of Indiana, died Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. He was 94.

He was born in 1924, in McKeesport, to the late Charles E. and Dorothy (Schultz) Murtha.

Before the war, he met his wife, Ruth, at a skating rink in McKeesport.

He spent his career as a supervisor for Bell Telephone.

In his free time, he enjoyed playing gin and golf, and traveling with his wife.

“They just enjoyed life, and family was a big part of that,” said Mr. Murtha’s daughter, Janet Murtha.

He attended school basketball games for three generations, watching his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren play.

He was outgoing and hardworking, according to his daughters.

He didn’t talk much about his service until he was older, and one of his granddaughters interviewed him for a school project.

Later, he would give talks to schoolchildren about his experience.

Last year, the Steelers honored Mr. Murtha, giving him a special seat in the stadium to watch a game to thank him for his service as a POW.

“He was so honored, he got to go up and talk with Art Rooney,” Zelenak said.

Mr. Murtha is survived by his daughters, Jeanne Zelenak and Janet Murtha, of Greensburg; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his infant son, William; his son, Alvin “Tex” Murtha; and his wife Ruth Chapman Murtha.

Friends and family will celebrate his life at 2 p.m. Sunday at a memorial service in Christ Episcopal Church, Indiana.

Bowser-Minich Funeral Home of Indiana, Pa., is in charge of arrangements.

Memorial contributions may be made to Christ Episcopal Church, 902 Philadelphia St., Indiana, PA 15701, or Church of the Advent, 51 S. First St., Jeannette, PA 15644, or the VFW.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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