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Obituaries

Steelworker bore his cross and made them, too

| Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006

As an employee involved in defense work at the Homestead Works of U.S. Steel during World War II, Iggy Petrovich could have qualified for a deferment from military duty. But he chose not to.

"Dad loved this country and what it had done for his family, and wanted to fight to defend it," said his son, David Petrovich.

Ignatz "Iggy" Petrovich, of Jefferson Hills, died Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006, in Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Jefferson Hills. He was 91.

After Army basic training, Mr. Petrovich was sent to the China-Burma-India Theater of Operation as a decontamination specialist for the 23rd Fighter Group.

Prior to becoming part of the Army Air Corps, the 23rd Fighter Group was known as the Flying Tigers. It was a volunteer group of American pilots headed by Claire Lee Chennault, a retired Army Air Corps officer.

"Dad was stationed at Kunming, Yunnan, China, where the Army Air Corps bombers coming from India would stop and refuel as they made their way to bomb Japan," David Petrovich said. "And on their way back to India, they would stop once again and refuel.

"Life was hard in Yunnan Province," he said. "Decontaminating the water was a must. And because flying in war material was considered essential, food often was scarce.

"Dad came down with malaria, and for a time his buddies didn't think he was going to make it."

Born and raised on the family farm in Clairton, Mr. Petrovich was one of 11 children of Serbian immigrants Mile (Mike) and Marta Vuchinich Petrovich.

After graduating from Clairton High School in 1932, he held a number of jobs before joining U.S. Steel as a carpenter.

Before leaving for the service in 1942, Mr. Petrovich met and married Mildred Jester, of the Large neighborhood of Jefferson Hills. Mrs. Petrovich died in 1992.

Michael Petrovich said his father encouraged his sons to be curious about everything in life.

"Dad was a dreamer. He was excited about the people that he met while in the service, including the French Legionnaires in Oran (Algeria), the Sikhs in Karachi and the Chinese civilians, who befriended him in Kunming.

"And yet, when he was discharged, he was content to return to his family, raise his sons and work at U.S. Steel until he retired in 1978."

David Petrovich's wife, Debbie, said her father-in-law used his skills as a carpenter to create wooden Orthodox crosses that he would distribute at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Monongahela, Washington County.

His other daughter-in-law, Michael's wife, Janice, recalled Mr. Petrovich as a gentle man who loved to read, garden and who never had a bad word to say about anyone.

Mr. Petrovich is survived by two sons, Michael Petrovich, of Columbia, Md., and David Petrovich, of Pleasant Hills; two sisters, Stella Shaheen and Josephine Nunnimaker, both of Michigan; and a grandson.

Mr. Petrovich was preceded in death by a son, Gregory Petrovich; and siblings Radi, Smilja, Nick, Guy, Mary, Melvin, Naomi and Daisy.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. today in Paul E. Bekavac Funeral Home, 221 Second St., Elizabeth Borough.

A Requiem Service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday with the Very Rev. Protopresbyter David J. Smoley officiating.

Burial with military honors will follow in Round Hill Cemetery, Elizabeth Township.

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