Eugene R. Vish comes from a large and very patriotic family. During WWII, three brothers served in the Pacific and three in Europe. They all returned safely from the war and rarely talked about their service. “It’s what we had to do,” he says of America’s role in the war. “I didn’t want to be there, but we were asked to go and take care of what needed to be taken care of.”
Gene emotionally recalls being in training for the war and receiving a letter from one of his brothers who was also in training elsewhere. His brother wrote that he would be shipping out soon and Gene wrote back on the envelope that he would be shipping out, too. “See you aboard ship,” he wrote, not really knowing if he would ever see his brother again. But as Gene tells it, choking back tears, against all odds he did find his brother on that large transport ship.
Gene served with an Army anti-aircraft unit, and like so many GIs he saw a lot of devastation and turmoil across Europe and in Germany. But he doesn’t like to dwell on the brutality of war, he says sternly. There are better things to remember, like the friends he made in the military. Your buddies become like family members. People look out for each other. Such bonds last a lifetime, Gene recalls. Once when a military reunion was in Coraopolis, PA Gene was ill and couldn’t go to the reunion, so his old Army buddies brought the reunion to him in the hospital.
Gene Vish’s interview launched our second community recording project in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. On 17 June 2013 we set up our mobile recording studio in a second floor storeroom of the Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls–long ago during the steel industry boom years a vibrant center of urban life. When Gene Vish joined the Army during WW II, the library would have documented his enlistment from newspaper clippings for its Veteran Files–which still exist.
On this day, we welcomed Gene to sit with us and share his WW II stories. His daughter Maureen Valenzi escorted him to the library, but at 89 he’s remarkably fit and able. “I’m not going to tell you any blood and guts stories,” he warned us before we began recording. That’s ok with us. “I’m just going to tell you where I was and what I went through,” he said, but we could tell that Gene might tell us a lot more than he, himself, anticipated. Most veterans, especially the WW II era men and women, underestimate their own memories–and the therapeutic power of story telling. Indeed, that was the case during our very important interview with Gene Vish.
KEYWORDS: 37MM GUN M1; ANTI-AIRCRAFT ARTILLERY; ARMY OF OCCUPATION; BERLIN, GERMANY; CAMBRIA COUNTY, PA; COOK SCHOOL; ENGLAND; FT. DIX, NJ; FT. EUSTIS, VA; GEORGIA; LE HAVRE, FRANCE; M3 HALF TRACK CAR; P- 38 CAN OPENER; PURPLE HEART MEDAL; REMAGEN BRIDGE; RUHR RIVER; SEWICKLEY, PA; STRETCHER CARRIERS; TIN CAN NAVY; TRAINING BATTALION; US ARMY; USS GEORGE WASHINGTON; VFW POST 5756; VISH, DOMINICK; VISH, REYNOLDS; WORLD WAR II