The course of Robert J. Kosko's life was set on the day it almost ended: Dec. 21, 1944, in the Sulu Sea off the Philippines island of Mindoro.
Mr. Kosko, then a sergeant with the U.S. Army's 339th Engineers, was aboard LST-749 when the Pittsburgh-built tank landing ship was hit by a Japanese kamikaze attack, killing and wounding scores of sailors and soldiers and plunging him into the sea with shrapnel wounds and a fractured knee, hip and ankle, his relatives said.
"His leg was pretty well torn up," said his son Marc Kosko, 57, of Munhall.
The leg would continue to bother Mr. Kosko, a Purple Heart recipient who eventually was promoted to lieutenant, the rest of life, including the 43 years he worked for U.S. Steel's Homestead Works and stints as a postman when the steelworkers went on strike.
But his early brush with death prompted him to live a life that mattered, including service on the Munhall and Steel Valley school boards, with St. Michael Catholic Church on East Ninth Avenue in Homestead and a seemingly endless list of community organizations, his children said.
Those included the Gen. Charles L. Griffin Post Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Day Association, the Homestead District Lions Club, which once named him Lion of the Year, and as a Boy Scouts scoutmaster.
Mr. Kosko, who died Friday at 93, also was commander of both the Catholic War Veterans Post 1423 and the Steel Valley Chapter 27 of the Disabled American Veterans and a past president and board member of the Tri-Boro Federal Credit Union.
"He always wanted to give back to the community and he always wanted to have an impact on other peoples' lives. He instilled that in us," said his daughter Cheryl Lukacs. "I think when he had that second chance on life he was going to live it to the best."
Born and raised in the Homestead-Munhall area, Mr. Kosko was the grandson of a Slovak immigrant and was committed to a sense of fairness and justice, his son said.
"He was a man of the people and [believed in] justice for the people, that people get a fair shake," Mr. Kosko said. "Because when he came up, if you were Slovak, you were looked down upon."
He met his wife, Mary, through mutual friends after returning home from the war and went on to raise five children while working full time and attending night school at the University of Pittsburgh. One of his regrets, his son said, was stopping 20 credits shy of his teaching degree.
He placed a strong emphasis on family and there was always room at the table for visitors, Mrs. Lukacs said.
"I think it was just his compassion and love for people that he wanted people to feel welcome and at home," she said.
Munhall Mayor Ray Bodnar said he knew Mr. Kosko from the big banquets and events Mr. Kosko helped organize as president of the St. Michael's men's club and through their work together on the Charles L. Griffin association, which maintains the war memorials in Homestead and Munhall and organizes Memorial Day events.
"He did a lot for the community," Mr. Bodnar said. "He did a lot for the borough and he did a lot for the school district. He's certainly going to be missed by the community. He was a first-class gentleman who worked hard."
Visitation is from 7 to 9 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Savolskis-Wasik-Glenn Funeral Home, 3501 Main St., Munhall. A Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Friday at St. Agnes Church, 635 St. Agnes Lane, West Mifflin.
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909.