Paul "Moke" Goettler was a grunt in the infantry during World War II and says he probably survived several close calls because he was so skinny. Honorably discharged, he returned to Carrick in November 1945, a 21-year-old who would go on to work hard for little money and raise six children in a three-bedroom house with a wife he has outlived for eight years.
He turned 90 Wednesday, still skinny, with a booming voice, keen eyesight and savant-like memory. Now his story is preserved for posterity, the first oral history of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society.
John Rudiak, a founder of the society, initiated the project to preserve something of the lives of people who remain grunts through life, who work hard, collectively carry the bulk of the load and don't have famous pall bearers.
Oral history project: John Rudiak interviews Paul Goettler
John Rudiak interviews Paul Goettler to initiate the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society's oral history project, with video by Chuck Christ. The society will begin outreach to add to its oral history archive. (7/5/2014)
Videographer Chuck Christ, owner of Memory Maker, a video and editing business, is donating his time to the project. .
Mr. Goettler warns that he is "a talking machine" before launching stories with details that are unique but strike a tone of universality.
No one knows him as Paul, he said. When he was 2, his father was looking for his cigarettes, and little Paul ran in with one of them dangling from his mouth. "I said, 'Me moke, me moke.' I've been Moke ever since."
Mr. Goettler got his first job while in high school, delivering telegrams for Western Union.
"I made $13.60 a week, and my mother got $10" to support her and his stepfather, who had been hit by a car and disabled.
His father had died when the boy was 7. People would go "wildcatting," scratching coal from seams they found, and his father was endeavoring to do that when a shaft caved in on him, burying him alive.
"I don't know why he was digging coal," Mr. Goettler said. "He was a rolling engineer for J&L making $90 a week. That was good money then."
At 18, Mr. Goettler got a job with Oliver Iron and Steel on the South Side then joined the Army a year later. He served in the 88th Infantry Division, the Blue Devils, in Italy.
He brings out memorabilia that fill his dining room table.
"There were two of us from Pittsburgh," he said of his platoon, fingering images on a group photograph. "They called us the Pittsburgh kids, me and Henry Golembiewski of Polish Hill. That's him, and there I am.
"Nobody remembers what happened two days before D-Day, but that was the day we took Rome," he said. "I was in Company C. We had the Germans on the run. I had some close calls, but I won't go into it. I had an angel on my shoulder."
At the end of the war, his company was in northern Italy when they heard people yelling, "La guerra e finita! We looked at each other and said, 'I guess it's over.' Just like that."
He wasn't home long before a friend named Claire invited him to a corn roast, noting several girls would be there.
"I just looked at one," he said, Marie Lorraine Simon. "Claire asked if I would take [Marie] home afterward, but I didn't have a car so my friend Jimmy drove us. I asked her, 'Do you go with anyone?' and she said, 'I'm engaged to a sailor.'
"On the way we had a flat tire. Her mother waited up to see all of her kids get home. I met her mother at 1 o'clock in the morning. The next day, she called me and said, 'My mother likes you.' "
He took two streetcars and walked a half mile up a hill to visit Marie, who lived in Elliott. When the sailor came home, Marie returned his ring.
"She said, 'Hey, Moke, let's get married.' We had nothing. She had a regular pink dress, and I had a regular suit, and I spent $27 for our wedding bands, but we lasted 60 years. I'll be in this house 63 years in November."
He worked in the bottling house at the Duquesne Brewing Co. until the company was dissolved in 1972. Anxious with children to feed, he applied at 50 places, and a supervisor from his previous job called him to work at Iron City Brewery, where he retireed in 1987.
All six of his children live in greater Pittsburgh. Marie died of congestive heart failure and requested that she be cremated. Her ashes are in an urn he plans to have placed in his casket when he dies.
Most everyone dies without sustained remembrance, but the historical society will give more elders in Carrick and Overbrook a chance for the stories of their lives to live on.
"All those stories could vanish," Mr. Rudiak said, "yet the achievements of regular people are so important to our city."
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Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.