George Priatko served with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater during WW II. Their well-known shoulder patch–the “electric strawberry” –is still recognizable today, although the unit is best known as “Tropic Lightning.” During liberation of the Philippines, the 25th fought for 165 days without rest–a fact revealed by George’s story of hand to hand combat against the Japanese. His duty was the worst of the worst close quarters combat, often engaging the enemy with knives, bayonets, and flame-throwers.
Perhaps growing up in gritty, working class Pittsburgh prepared George Priatko for what he encountered in the Pacific. We’d like to think so; his childhood stories are certainly rough and tumble. However, listen closely to Mr. Priatko’s voice and you can sense–despite his point-blank recollection–that nothing in Pittsburgh could have prepared him for what he had to do in the Philippines.
In the the video interview, listen as interviewer Todd DePastino poses perhaps the most direct and honest question we could ask of any combat veteran (32:20). We continue to be respectfully silenced by the response.
George Priatko joined us on March 27, 2012 for one of our project’s earliest interviews. We recorded in the stately Board Room of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. George was one of three oral history interviews we conducted on that cold and gloomy day. Nevertheless, we were kept enthralled, not only by George’s remarkable memory and storytelling, but also by his astonishing combat experiences–the worst of the worst, as we often explain.
On hand that day was photographer Andy Marchese, one of our most significant creative contributors. Many of his photographs of George, such as the “grand chair” and the “boxing pose” are stories themselves. They show the power of visual storytelling, and we are glad to have them as part of our project.
FBI Man in Korea
Listen to George Priatko (~3:33) tell his story about working as an undercover FBI agent in Korea during the late 1940s. Originally recorded at a Veterans Breakfast Club event July 19, 2013, in Penn Hills, PA, this audio is from Episode #7 of Veteran Voices: The Podcast.
The Final Story
George Priatko of Plum, formerly of North Braddock and Forest Hills, age 88, died on Saturday, January 24, 2015. Beloved husband of the late Lois E. (Mueller) for 51 years; loving father of Michael (Charlotte) Priatko of Plum, Gregory (Jacqueline) Priatko of WI, Theresa (Jeffrey) Kucic of Clarion and Christopher (Sharon) Priatko of North Huntingdon; dear grandfather of Joshua, Matthew, Emily, Andrew, Lydia and Chloe Priatko, and Lauren and Amanda Kucic; proud great-grandfather of Anthony Priatko; brother of Marion (late Hugh) Campbell, William (late Helen) Priatko, Terry (late Joseph) Bonacci and the late John Priatko; also survived by nieces and nephews.
George was a World War II Army veteran and a member of the Plum American Legion, Post #980. After WW II, he worked for ten years for US Steel, Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock. He then became employed with the US Postal Service, retiring after a long career from the North Side facility. His Christian faith was very important to him as he was a former member of St. Gregory Orthodox Church in Homestead and was a member of Our Lady of Joy in Plum.
George was a physical fitness buff and was known for doing over 100 pushups every day even until these last six months. He also was proud to be a founder, along with his brother, John, of the former Shady Lane Club in North Braddock where neighborhood youth gathered for exercise, fitness and fellowship.
Burial with Military Honors will be in Restland Cemetery.