Saturday, February 27, 2010

Clairton Heroes and Patriots

Patriotic For No Particular Reason

Thank you Putz Martin: Ten months worth of blogs ago in this space we honored the late Richard Martin. He had fought a gallant battle against cancer but lost. He was a Clairton lad who left his mark on the community as a law enforcement officer, including a stint as Clairton Police Chief. Richard had two brothers. Leonard, named after his Dad, took on the nickname Putz. He was a little stockier and shorter than big brother Rich. Jimbo, the youngest was a scrawny kid who came up to Richard’s shoulder. We all played football on Waddell Avenue, along with Franny Metro, the Pesta brothers, Larry Triglia, Mike LeDonne, Jim Beam, and others who wandered in and out. Somebody always had a football. The goals were the front bumper of Mr. Jone’s ’37 Ford and the telephone pole. The plays were, “Go to the front door handle, cut left, and I’ll throw the ball to the headlight.” Other days we’d play full tackle football in Mr. Jacob’s pasture at the end of Waddell.

Who’d a thunk there could be a 6’3” midget?: Putz contacted me recently and we reflected over the “good old days.” He emailed me a photo of three senior citizens – one in a police uniform, one in an American Flag shirt, and one in full uniform. The occasion was Memorial Day and the “short” person on the left was Richard, at 6”3.” Putz stood in the middle at 6’4” and little Jimbo, at 6’7” struck a handsome pose in his dress Army uniform. Putz also sent me a link to a virtual wall that lists Viet Nam casualties by last name and city. I discovered the following Clairton heroes who gave their lives for our country: PFC Terry Lyle Booth, PFC William Noel Cole, SGT Robert Doering, Spec4 Fredrick Paul Gillen, LCPL James Lloyd Pettiford, PFC Wayne A. Podlesnik, SFC Albert Edwin Smith, CPL David Leland Smith, and LCPL Dennis Michael Wargo. I thank the families of these brave young men and may they rest in peace. Clairton heroes all. And Thank Leonard “Putz” Martin for the link:

Clairton residents have long been patriotic: As a lad growing up in Clairton one of my most poignant memories is of the Roll of Honor that occupied the entire corner of St. Clair and Miller Avenues. On it were the names of the gallant servicemen who had served in the Second World War. The American Legion has also played a role for veterans to gather and for young people to learn of our country’s heroes. From the web page of American Legion Post 75 comes the following:

“The American Legion was incorporated on September 16, 1919 by an Act of the 66th Congress of the United States.

Daniel Keffer Post 75 was organized in Clairton, Pennsylvania, in June 1920 and received its charter in August 1920 with a community dinner held at the "Clairton Inn," afterwards known as the Penn Clair Hotel. The first commander was Dudley H. Polhemus.

Meetings were held for several months in the Municipal Building. Then portable buildings were occupied on lots located where the Clairton Post Office is now situated.

In 1933, following negotiations with the Carnegie Land Company, Daniel Keffer Post 75 gave up its location at the corner of Fifth Street and St. Clair Avenue, and occupied quarters at 540 St. Clair Avenue.

The Post operates under the original charter granted in August, 1920 and also a separate and distinct charter of incorporation granted by the Courts of Pennsylvania in 1933.

During World War II, Post officers and members were heavily engaged in the sale of war bonds, the operation of the various Rationing Boards, and the support of American Armed Forces abroad and on the Home Front. After the war, the Post saw a great increase in membership as the veterans returned home. Members established scholarship funds, contributed time and money to many community activities, and sponsored local sports teams.

On November 15, 1965 Post Headquarters at 540 St. Clair Avenue were vacated, and
temporary quarters were taken up at the Hirshberg Building on the corner of Large and Miller Avenues.

The present Headquarters at the corner of Mitchell and Miller Avenues were occupied on July 1, 1966,

To this day, Post 75 continues to be a strong force in the community, donating to many charities, granting scholarships, and helping to support the band, the sports teams, the firefighters and many other worthy organizations.”

Clairton has had its share of heroes, perhaps more than its share. It is the proud home of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Captain Reginald Desiderio as well as many service men and women, some of whom have returned home, others who have not. Clairton was featured as the hometown of Viet Nam war buddies and heroes in the classic 1978 film “The Deer Hunter.” Whether Clairton residents have remained in the area or scattered with the winds, all can be proud to have come from such a proud heritage.

A little blogging music Maestro… as a tribute to our proud Clairton soldiers we dedicate the Clairton High School fight song:

“It’s Clairton High School, it’s Clairton High School
The pride of ev’ry student here.
Come on, you old grads, join with us young lads,
It’s Clairton High School now we cheer, RAH, RAH
Now is the time boys, to make a big noise,
No matter what the people say,
For there is none to fear the gang’s all here,
So Hail to Clairton High School, Hail.”

Dr. Forgot

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Far Have We Fallen?

What have we become?

A story long ago: Today’s post mixes personal history with confusion and frustration. Bear with me if you will, or click it off and wait for a happier post if you prefer. Fifty years ago this June I was lucky enough to count myself among the Clairton High School graduating class. I left the quencher, Clairton Park, Haines Super Market, the Daily News, Clairton Progress, and all my boyhood memories behind and traveled 2,000 miles to attend a university. I did not want to attend college but my father insisted, so thinking I’d trick him into letting me join the Marines, I said that I’d only attend college if I got to choose the school. Then I laid it on him – a school I’d only heard of from a classmate. It was thousands of miles away. A church-sponsored university sponsored by a religion that neither my father nor I had heard of. No way would he say yes. But he said yes, and at the tender age of 17 I ended up a stranger in a strange land – Provo, Utah.

With the help of my parents’ financial support plus working nearly full time in the campus library, and being a bit entrepreneurial, I graduated four years later debt-free and with a degree in Psychology. Whoops! No job prospects for a psych major (except car sales, clerking in a J.C. Penney store, or flipping burgers), so I accepted an offer from a family friend to teach the sixth grade for a year until I decided what I wanted to do when I grew up. My gross salary that year, 1964, was $4800 and by the time the school year ended, my bachelor lifestyle had put me in debt by more than $12,000 – more than one-quarter of my salary.

Back to the Wild West: I returned to Utah, married a college girlfriend, and moved to Idaho to teach school. The next 20+ years were spent working two and three jobs trying to extricate myself from debt while raising a family and living a “normal” life. Finally, as I neared my 50th birthday the residual debt was cleared and I began to save a little for retirement.

Mine is not a unique story for those of my era – the leading edge before the baby boom generation – we were generally responsible about living up to our obligations. Times were not always good. Sometimes we would pay $5.00 per month on a debt until it was retired, but rarely did we stick a merchant with an unpaid bill. Rarely did we hide behind bankruptcy, or attempt to get debts discharged without paying them. That was unheard of.

TV ads galore: Fast forward to 2010. I am inundated daily with TV ads that blare, “If you owe more than $10,000 we can reduce or eliminate your debt.” The ad includes testimonials of people who boast, “I had $ 25,000 in credit card debt and only paid $2,000.” Other testimonials boast that their entire debt was “wiped away” by using the company that is being advertised. What is wrong with this picture? To me, those ads are like fingernails being scraped across the blackboard. Advertising media is encouraging Americans to eschew their obligations, and that is just plain wrong!

Americans are whiners: I fear that we have become a nation of snipers and I’m concerned that people like those who have made this country great over the years might buy into the mentality that pervades the airwaves. Why think? Why create? Why be innovative and try to solve your problems when it is so easy to dismiss them? Blame it on the government. If you are a Democrat, blame the Republicans. If you are Republican, blame the Democrats. If you are an ultra conservative or liberal, blame everybody. Pick at the country as though it were a scab. It is so much easier to criticize rather than offer solutions. Sit around and get fat by eating comfort foods then blame the airline that says you’re too fat to fit in one seat.

An old and dear friend and regular blog reader sent me an email that included a song called “Born Again American” sung by multiple people, all complaining that their government had let them down. My response was as follows:

An opposing opinion: This piece (that was sent to me) was well done and creative. However, it feeds into all the negativity that is much of what our problem is, in my humble opinion. I hear people pissing and moaning, and bemoaning what our country has become. I see a Republican in Arizona attacking another Republican (John McCain) in Arizona because he is not Republican enough. I see a Democrat Senator with a legacy of governing in Iowa quitting because he is fed up with the hatred and bullshit that pervades Congress. I see right wing radio attacking their foes like the Devil himself and listeners piling on like a bunch of hyenas who have discovered fresh prey. Everything I see and hear on the internet and in the news regarding our country smacks of "Oh my, what victims we are. Our country has been taken from us and we want it back. Boo hoo. The other side is trying to destroy our country...." etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

What I DO NOT hear: "This is how we can make America great again." What I do not see is what has made our country great in the past – Henry Ford with the automobile, American men and women uniting for the cause during WW-II when our country went from ground zero to the mightiest nation in the world by turning our factories into suppliers of needed goods, or two college dropouts like the ones who started the Hewlett Packard company in their garage, or two other college dropouts who started up Apple computers in their garage or Bill Gates who created the means for us to do what we are doing this instant.

We have always had a propensity for whining in this country but there have also always been those gifted, creative folks who ignored the "poor me" syndrome and focused on creating or inventing something that was the next big boon in our economy and for our society. I don't see that happening today. All I see and hear are the TV and radio pundits attacking but do not offer solutions, and their 300 million listeners who nod and clap their hands in approval like so many trained seals.

Where are the thinkers? Where are the creators? Where are the inventers? Until they step forward you can have as many "Born Again American" songs as can fit on a CD-ROM but our great country will continue to wallow in the pettiness and bickering of the lost tribe of Washington DC and the jackals who continue to attack them.

The antidote: Identify the problem(s) then stop the bitching, bickering, whining, pissing, and moaning. Instead, work toward a solution.

A little blogging Maestro… “Welcome to the Working Week,” by Elvis Costello

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentines Day

Hearts and Funeral flowers

Bang the drum slowly: Father Michael Bercik was a Clairton guy. He became a priest and was ordained at his home parish of St. Paulinus, after which he moved to parishes from Pittsburgh to Boston. Father Michael served as pastor at Saint Pamphilus Catholic Church in Pittsburgh for eleven years, served as pastor at St Ann's Catholic Church in Marlborough, Massachusetts for fourteen years, and served as pastor at Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Derry, New Hampshire. He also served on the Provincial Definitorium of the Providence of the Immaculate Conception. He died of complications from diabetes and kidney failure. He leaves Milbrey Campbell of Tennessee, his twin sister and brother Fred of Charleroi.

One life ends, another begins: Last week’s snow storm in Clairton brought the Blue Flame Restaurant’s service to a screeching halt. With no power for a week the local restaurant was unable to host the civic group meetings, post-funeral mercy dinners, or the many regulars who stop by for good food and conversation. But life must go on. At least that was the case with 30-year old Questa Giles of Charleroi. She was very, very pregnant during the snow storm when a little voice inside her began to say, “Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail will stop me from making my grand entrance into the world.”

Questa’s mom Gelinda Giles piled her daughter and almost grandchild into the car and headed up the recently opened Highway 43 to its terminus at Rte. 51 for a hospital, braving the weather. Once the Blue Flame came into sight Grandma, Mom, and almost Baby all knew that the ride was about to be interrupted. They whipped into the semi-snowbound parking lot and with the help of Jefferson Police Officers Sgt. William Potts and his partner Stephanie Behers, added one more life to the world in the person of 7 pound 8 ounce girl named Emani. The three generations of Giles eventually made it to the hospital where Mom and Baby are reportedly doing well. Grandma is still shaking. Perhaps the Blue Flame sign will be changed to read “Blue Flame Restaurant and Birthing Center.” If not, surely their parking lot will be remembered as a place of Special Delivery.

St. Valentine’s Day is for the birds: One myth held that if a young girl saw a particular bird on St. Valentine’s Day she would marry a particular type of man. Blackbird = man of the cloth, bluebird = man of humor, dove = man of kindness, goldfinch = man of wealth, robin = man of the sea, sparrow = man of the country and if she saw a woodpecker on Valentine’s Day she’d remain a spinster.

Top 10 gifts for her on Valentine’s Day: #10, a personally cut CD with her favorite music, #9, tickets for a weekend getaway to either her favorite spot or a romantic place you want to explore (hint: DO NOT take her to the romantic place you and your ex enjoyed so much). # 8, lingerie. Be sure to tell her that she looks better than the models at Victoria’s Secret. #7, dinner out at an upscale restaurant and make it a very special night #6 by getting there in a limo. #5 Chocolates in a heart shaped box, #4, a huge bouquet of roses complete with baby’s breath and greens. #3, jewelry, depending on your budget this could be a heart-shaped locket or lots of diamonds. #2 is poetry. If your ability is limited to “Roses are red, violets are blue,” or if you can only rhyme love to above, perhaps a fine poem from a commercial source would be your choice. And the #1 gift for a most special Valentine’s Day is the renewal of your vows. Take her to a chapel. If I may use the line that you used when wooing her, “Trust me.”

Nothing says “I love you” like a… dolphin? For as long as there’s been romance there have been symbols of love. Today we are most familiar with flowers, especially roses, hearts, lovebirds, doves, and of course Cupid and his arrows. Scholars tell us that Valentine’s and romantic symbols over the years have included pendants, crystals, butterflies, and even dolphins.

Cupid is the son of Venus, the Goddess of Love. According to mythology whomever his arrow hits will fall in love with the first person s/he sees. The love knot concept was born in the Muslim culture where women would send a message of love to a man by tying the knots of a carpet in a certain way and sending him the carpet. It is believed that on Valentine’s Day love birds and doves found their mates. And of course, the heart is the very center of life. Hence, the symbol of cupid’s arrow piercing the heart has come to represent true love.

A little blogging music Maestro…. Today there can be no better selection than John Paul Young’s, “Love is in the Air.”

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Warming the Cockles of your Heart

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful…

Raindrops keep falling on my head: As I place pen to parchment (figuratively speaking of course) this morning, there is evidence of rain in the desert. A week ago there was rain for a few days and the total rainfall for those few days was more than the entire rain that was measured in 2009. More rain last night and predicted today as well as tomorrow. The phenomenon is called “El Nino,” which is Spanish for “little boy,” and was supposedly named for the Christ child. El Nino (pronounced el neen’-yo) is a good thing since the desert southwest has been in a drought for more than a decade and Lake Mead, which provides water to the Las Vegas Valley, has seen its water level shrink over that decade. Here’s hoping the drought is over and the Colorado River fills the lake to the brim.

I guess that’s why they call it the blues: Meanwhile, back in our old hometown of Clairton, PA the weather issue is of a different nature. My spies who still live in our old hometown tell me that this morning (Saturday, February 06, 2010) some 20 inches of snow have fallen in the Greater Clairton area, which includes the teeny suburb of Pittsburgh and other villages. Interstate highways in the area as well as the Turnpike are void of traffic. The electricity is off in Clairton and surrounding communities. The weather channels on the internet tell me that today’s high in Clairton will be 25F, with an overnight low of 7F and tomorrow’s high is expected to be 21F. Let’s hope that electricity comes back on. Otherwise be sure to have a blazing fire going in your house – provided of course, that you have a fireplace.

Another Clairtonian of note: Richard Bruno grew up in Clairton. He excelled in his studies after graduating in the late 1960s and went on to Duke University where he earned a degree in Mathematics. Richard returned to the area and enrolled in med school at Pitt and did his residency in Family Practice in South Carolina. For the next 20 years Dr. Bruno treated diplomats and their families at various U.S. Embassies and served as personal physician to Secretaries of State. Six years ago Dr. Bruno retired from civil service and accepted a faculty position at Lynn University in Miami, FL, teaching algebra and Scientific Literacy.

Dr. Bruno was part of Lynn University’s “Journey of Hope” team, 14 faculty and students that focused on community service. They were doing their work in Haiti, providing food for the poor, when the earthquake struck January 12. In fact, the team was at Hotel Montana in the middle of the area that was destroyed. On January 15, eight students who had been rescued returned to Miami. It was reported February 13 that Dr. Bruno's body had been recovered.

January 28, President Ross of Lynn University announced that while they still held out hope, the time to grieve has come. We send our condolences to the family of Richard Bruno, a Clairton boy/hero, missing and presumed dead in Haiti.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Dr. Bruno had three daughters, all of whom were inspired to make their marks in life. Middle daughter, Kelly, has a “chip off the old block” attitude. Kelly Bruno, 25, like her dad, is a Duke graduate and medical student at North Carolina. Her dad not only inspired her to pursue medicine (as he did an older sister to go into nursing and the younger sister to study forensics) but Kelly inspired Dr. Bruno start training for triathlons.

Despite a rare birth defect that forced Kelly’s right leg to be amputated at six months of age, she became a world-class triathlete and Ironman competitor while wearing her prosthetic. By age 18 she was a track star. She beat out 400 other contenders to be selected to as a ball girl (court attendant) at the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center in New York last year. She makes it into this blog by virtue of being sired by a Clairtonian. That’s the only thing she wasn’t able to do on her own.

Cold weather? Warm up with this: We often focus on the Clairton of days gone by, but there are many heartwarming stories in today’s Clairton. Take for example Dr. Jerome Stevenson, pastor of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Clairton. While attending a CHS basketball game last year he noted that the players were not all wearing the same shoes as they do on many teams. In fact, many players’ shoes were ragged and looked like regular school shoes. So he did a little research and found out that the cost of purchasing new shoes for every player on both the boys and girls basketball team at CHS would cost about $1600.00. A lot of money, right? Not for Pastor Stevenson’s congregation.

The congregation raised the money and the pastor prevailed upon the management at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Homestead to offer a 10 % discount on top of the sale price that had already been discounted by 30%. And that’s not all! Not all the required sizes were available at the store in Homestead so store employees called other stores in the area to complete the shoe buy. The shoes were presented at halftime of the first game of the season.

But wait, there’s more! Dr. Stevenson and his parish have a new project. He is currently raising money to pay SAT fees for CHS seniors who are unable to afford the College Board tests. He intends to continue that project each year. Bravo, Dr. Stevenson. In case any blog reader would like to help in Dr. Stevenson’s efforts, contact information is: Morning Star Baptist Church, 307 Shaw Avenue, Clairton, PA 15025-1848. Phone: (412) 233-3644 or 233.7289.

A little blogging music Maestro… “With a Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles.

Dr. Forgot