Exhibit honors South Hills veterans who died in service

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Taps has already sounded for these veterans, but Joe Oyler is working diligently to keep their memory alive.

Mr. Oyler has teamed up with the Bridgeville Area Historical Society to stage an exhibit honoring veterans, with particular emphasis on the 113 men from Bridgeville, South Fayette and parts of Collier and Upper St. Clair who lost their lives while serving in the military. 

The exhibit is at the Kathleen Banks Building on Station Street in Bridgeville and runs through Aug. 31.

“We need to always remember and honor our veterans, especially the ones who didn’t come back,” he said.

Mr. Oyler, who lives in Scott but grew up in Bridgeville, is a retired civil engineer who has made chronicling the stories of those veterans his mission.

He spent five years researching the lives of local veterans who died while in the service and published a book called “Almost Forgotten” that is dedicated to keeping their memory alive.

The exhibit, which is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, contains information about veterans going  back to the Revolutionary War.

Much of the display consists of letters, photos and personal stories gathered from interviews with family members and friends of veterans from the War of 1812, Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korean War and Vietnam War.

The exhibit, however, also contains items such as a Luger pistol used by German forces in World War II and a flare gun used by U.S. flight crews during that war.

“The flare gun was used by the crew to signal to the ground crew if the plane had wounded aboard or had suffered damage before landing,” Mr. Oyler said.

Also on display are uniforms from WW II and the Korean War and medals such as the Purple Heart.

The Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville, where Mr. Oyler is a life-long member, published a newsletter during World War II about events in Bridgeville that was mailed to local servicemen.

“The servicemen enjoyed the news from home and wrote back 150 letters to the church,” Mr. Oyler said.

The newsletters and letters from the 65 veterans have been preserved in booklet form and are part of the exhibit.

Ration stamps to obtain food and gasoline during World War II also are on display.

“You received an allocation of stamps for gasoline depending on your importance to the war effort. Those who worked in defense industries received more coupons than those in other lines of work,” he said.

Some of the stories chronicled in the exhibit have amazed visitors.

Three Bridgeville veterans — George Abood, George Shady and Peter Calabro — were all shot down during perilous bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe and all ended up in the same German prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft IV. All three survived the war.

Amos Jones Jr., who grew up in Bridgeville, was part of a crew flying a mission over the North Atlantic in 1953 when the plane crashed atop a glacier during a winter storm that lasted seven days.

When rescue crews made it to the crash site, it was covered with more than 8 feet of ice and snow and only one airman’s body could be recovered.

In 1981, the glacier had retreated, and the plane and the bodies of all the crew members were finally found. Mr. Jones is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

On Saturday, several models of World War II jeeps will be on display from noon to 3 p.m. at Triangle Park, adjacent to the Kathleen Banks Building. The veterans exhibit will be open from noon to 5 p.m. that day.

“The exhibit is one more opportunity to commemorate the 113 local guys who lost their lives,” Mr. Oyler said. “For me, it is a labor of love.” 

Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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