It seems like it was just yesterday that I was writing about celebrating Christmas while growing up in Duquesne. All of the sudden, the Spring season is almost over and we are all about to head into Kennywood School Picnics, the end of the school year and Memorial Day celebrations.
Standing proudly on Grant Avenue and North Third is Duquesne’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial. The monument was dedicated on a rainy November 11th in 1921, three years after the end of World War I. Thanks to the wealth of information that Jim Hartman provided from the Mifflin Township Historical Society, I was able to find some photos
and clippings which illustrate the love and pride that the people of Duquesne had for America.
Virtually all of my uncles on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family served in the Armed Forces during WW2 or the Korean War. Some saw action, while others served in supportive roles either overseas or here in the USA. The one thing that I remember is that they all would celebrate holidays dedicated to our freedom, Memorial Day, July 4th and Armistice Day. We would always have picnics or cookouts on Memorial Day and July 4th. Armistice Day would be more of a quiet observation, one on which my parents would always make sure that wreaths were placed on the graves of loved ones who served our country.
My father died in 1999. He always said he would make it to the new century, but missed the mark by a few months. There was a book published in 2000 that was written by my cousin Jim O’Brien. The book is titled “Glory Years – A Century of Excellence in Sports.” The book honored a century of excellence in Pittsburgh and honored the individuals who contributed to the excellence that was demonstrated.
Honored by this book were such notable area personalities as Mario Lemieux, Mary Lou Retton, Roberto Clemente, Myron Cope and Pete Maravich. In between the 30+ athletes was a testimonial to my father, Steve Volk. He was not an athlete, nor an announcer, nor anyone of any notoriety except among those who knew him as a husband, father, brother, uncle, neighbor or as a friend. Jim O’Brien has given me permission to share his tribute to my dad. I share this with you since I believe it speaks to the thousands of Duquesne Dads that were part of our lives.
He served his country
“I’m a 110 percent.”
A light rain fell all weekend on the fresh grave at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Mifflin. It soaked a small American flag that had been stuck in the mound so that the flag soon stopped flapping in the breeze.
The flag signified that the deceased man was a military veteran, one of those we ought to remember and pay tribute to on Memorial Day. A larger American flag was folded in a triangle at the top of the casket, and had caught my eye during the viewing earlier in the week at the Gregris Funeral Home in Duquesne. It’s the favored funeral home for Croatian
Catholics in the community, across the street from the high school, up the steep hill from where the U.S. Steel Works once dominated the landscape.
Steve Volk, my wife’s uncle, had lived most of his 84 years in Duquesne,
and once owned an automotive repair shop there. He later managed an automotive repair unit of J.C.Penney’s. He died in May of 1999.
During World War II, Volk trained airplane mechanics for the U.S. Army at an airfield near Chicago. Like most men and women who were in the military service, he was not a decorated war hero. He simply served his country as best he could and when he came backhome he got a job and raised a family.
Steve Volk was no big shot, just a simple man. He was about 5-7, but walked tall and was
a sociable fellow. I didn’t know him that well, but every time I saw him at a family get-together he wore a hat and a smile. When anyone asked how he was doing, he would reply, “I’m 110 percent.”
He was the sort of man NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw wrote about in his best-selling book “The Greatest Generation.” It dealt with individual men and women who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II and went on to build modern America.
“This generation was united not only by a common purpose,” wrote Brokaw, “but also. by common values – duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country and, above all, responsibility for oneself.”
Steve was the oldest of eight children. He was survived by his sisters, Helen Volk and Peggy Rusnica, and his brothers, Gary and Joseph. He was preceded in death by his brothers, John, Henry and Michael.
Volk did a great jab of raising his sons, Steve and Jimmy, now in their mid-40s. Young Steve was just 14 and Jimmy 12 when their mother, Mildred (Puskaric) Volk, died. They’ve always been good kids, and now they have wonderful families of their own. Their dad taught them how to do that.
Steve has been a big success in the insurance business, and Jimmy has done just as well in the retail business.
They have fond memories of their father. He was a simple man who
enjoyed hunting, fishing, golfing and smiling.
Memorial Day always reminds me of earlier Memorial Days and Memorial Day parades I attended with my father and brother in my youth.
As I get older, I take greater pride in having served in our Armed Forces. I was in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, but never went overseas and was never in harm’s way. Unless you count basic military training at Fort Knox near Louisville, Kentucky, where I was always fearful that some awkward recruit might stumble and fall and fire off a few rounds in my back as we participated in advance firing movements.
I spent ten months at the U.S. Army Home Town News Center, located in Kansas City, Missouri, writing stories about the activities of men and women in the military service for their hometown newspapers.
I spent ten more months editing a weekly camp newspaper at Fort Greely, Alaska.
My stories were always calling positive attention to those who were serving their country. Like most of my fellow students in college, I was not too keen on going into the military service when I was called in the draft. I’m glad I went, though. Every day seemed demanding in a way, but it was nothing compared to what others were experiencing on
Seeing a movie like “Saving Private Ryan” makes one realize how lucky they were not to have been in combat. It’s the combat veterans who really rate our admiration. But people like Steve Volk did their best in a supportive way.
His sons are real sports fans, but their favorite hero has always been their dad.
In honor of all of the brave men and women who served our nation and who continue to do so, don’t forget to honor them in some way on May 30th. If you are near their gravesite, visit, place a wreath or a flag and say “Thank You” for all of us. If you are too distant to honor them in that manner, offer a prayer, make a donation to a VA Hospital and if nothing else, just take a moment and remember them. To help you to that end, please enjoy the following video from The Gaither Vocal Band, recorded shortly after 9-11 in NYC.
Memorial Day 2011. Just returned from visiting the Holy Name @ St Peter and Paul cemeteries. At both cemeteries theyhad already placed flags on the graves of each veteran with a bronze medallion signifying which war they were in. It made me feel proud of the men and women from our area who so proudly servered our country. I visited my dad (Robert C. I’m Robert M.) who died last year at age 84. Like so many of our dads he served during WWII, in his case in the Navy. Two doors down I saw Mr. Werntges, a fireman in Duquesne and very soft spoken. His stone says he was a bronze star winner. His son Billy and I were good friends, but I never heard about the star. I walked on and saw familiar names flying our flag. Names like Magdic, Gelbish, and Merranko to name a few. How many heroes did we walk among while growing up, and never knew while they quietly stood guard over us and our little corner of the world Duquesne? Bless ’em all!!!!
I believe Duquesne was full of silent heroes like Mr. Werntges!! God bless them all and THANK YOU!
I remember Mr. Chermonitz very well. Bob (M) and I were Holy Name and Duquesne Place buddies. Every time I visited with Bob in his home down by the Dairy Queen, Mr. Chermonitz and I always had pleasant conversations, and he had a lot of good Navy stories and a lot of cool model airplanes and boats, even a small cannon if I remember correctly. God Bless him and all of the Heroes of Duquesne!
Hi Geno!! Gosh, how long has it been? Thanks for the nice comments about my dad. Brings back memories (he DID have a cannon). I remember your dad, too. I watched him build your back porch out of bricks and thought that was really cool. Remember when he let us all sleep out on it when finished? You also had an uncle who had like a ’55 Ford he was always working on. I thought it was a real hotrod!! Yes, we were good friends. Hope you are well. I wish I had a nickle for every time we played together. And Jimmy, thanks for these memories!!
I know my Dad was in the Korean War because he married Mom after it was over, but I have no idea what he did. My grandfather was a cook in WWI and served his country by serving his fellow army men. He didn’t do anything heroic, but I know from one story that he made a homesick private feel right at home by making the guy’s favorite treat – sugar bread (just bread [not toast} with butter and sugar sprinkled on that). Pop served it frequently cause it was a big hit and years later he served it to me. Sometimes it would be my breakfast and sometimes it would be my lunch and it was just about always served on Grandma’s homemade bread. I guess Pop was a hero to at least a lonely guy and a little girl.