Eugene Torisky of Stow, Ohio served in the navy as a radioman during the 1950s, sailing on two different destroyers, the USS Turner (DDR-834) and the USS Fessenden (DER-142).
Gene grew up in Pittsburgh, attended Catholic seminary school, but then decided against a life in service to the church. Based on the adventurous tales of an uncle who served in the navy during WWII, sea duty seemed more appealing. As a young man, Gene wanted his own adventures and a chance to travel the world and meet new people. He was the only graduate of his radioman school who volunteered for ship duty.
Gene served during height of the Cold War, when the Americans and Soviets deeply distrusted each other and used their navies to posture power around the globe. “We were always watching and listening for the Russians on my cruises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean,” Gene says. His ships were fitted with specially designed radar and communications gear.
While home on leave to attend his brother Chuck’s wedding, Gene met his future wife and gradually a life at sea no longer appealed to him. “Navy life is tough on families,” he says. “I didn’t want that, so I made the decision to leave the navy in 1958 and get married. It was the best decision I ever made.”
What about the navy? “I loved it. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”
On the first Monday of each month throughout 2015, we conducted oral history interviews at the Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives in the Senator John Heinz History Center. The library is closed to the public on these days, so the staff graciously invited us to meet with local veterans and use this space to record and preserve their stories.
On July 6, 2015, we invited three senior Pittsburgh area veterans to the Heinz History Center to share their stories with the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative. First to be interviewed by historian Todd DePastino was Joel Laudenslager, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we were joined by Harold Huckestein, WWII navy veteran, followed by Gene Torisky, navy veteran of the Cold War.