Long before the elite Navy SEALs (which stands for Sea, Land, and Air) came into being in 1962, amphibious special operations were conducted by a small, ad hoc group of warriors.  During WW II, Guy D. Tressler of Connellsville, PA served as one of them.

At 91, he still brightly recalls his days in Asia with the Navy’s top secret Amphibious Scouts and Raiders.   It’s little known that American military involvement into deep Asia extended beyond the China-Burma-India (CBI) airlift operations flown over the Himalayan Mountains.  Yet Guy Tressler’s outfit was part of the little known Sino American Cooperative Organization, or SACO (pronounced sock-oh)–a combined special warfare effort of the Americans and Chinese.  SACO was sometimes called the “The Rice Paddy Navy.”

Operating deep, far, and wide throughout China and behind Japanese lines (from the coast zones to Tibet), Guy Tressler and the SACO team trained Chinese resistance forces, gathered intelligence, and sabotaged enemy transportation routes and supplies.  It was dangerous work, Guy admits, but it was so secretive and covert that relatively few men were killed.  Additionally, SACO remained one of the most independent military units of the war, operating outside the control of more established command centers.  The Army’s General Stilwell was so incensed by SACOs independence that he routinely witheld vital supplies destined for the special forces group.

For their gallantry and service, members of SACO received the Sino-American Cooperative Organization Medal by the Nationalist (Republic of China) Ministry of National Defense, a virtually unknown award considered to be one of the rarest of World War II.  Unfortunately, Navy regulations never authorized SACO members to wear the medal.

For many months Nancy Hrabak had been inviting us to her hometown of Connellsville, PA to meet with and record the stories local WW II veterans.  Our schedule finally permitted us to visit Connellsville on November 29, 2013–the day after Thanksgiving, which also happened to be National Day of Listening—an effort promoted by StoryCorps to encourage families and friends to record and share their own life stories.  (During NDL 2012, Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh partnered with the Heinz History Center to record three sets of conversations between veterans and their children).

Nancy assured us that we would not be disappointed in whom she arranged to interview, but moreover we would be impressed by the recording venue in the newly constructed Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop—a remarkable replica of the original train station that welcomed thousands of GIs passing through the area during the war years.

Indeed, we were impressed with the Canteen; we instantly felt at home by its warm and intimate feel and remarkable collection of World War II era photography and memorabilia.   We are grateful to Dan Cocks and Michael Edwards of the Fayette County Cultural Trust for their hospitality and welcoming us to the Canteen and Connellsville.

A Day in the Life of Preserving Veterans’ Stories

Along with the interviews themselves, preserving a record of our oral history field work is important, too. On-location interviewing is an all day affair, and managing the technical logistics of our mobile recording studio can be arduous.  We are always grateful when someone is on hand to take a few photos or to video the interview sessions.

Dan Cocks of the Fayette County Cultural Trust produced such a record of our visit to the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop, November, 29, 2013, and he created this vivacious video record of our visit.

The Final Story

Guy D. “Rick” Tressler, 93, of Connellsville passed away peacefully April 25, 2016 surrounded by his family. He was born Sept. 18, 1922 in So. Connellsville, a son of the late Guy D. and Elizabeth (Dienes) Tressler. Rick was a carpenter by trade, retiring from Local 321 in 1984. He was a member in good standing of Local 1010, Uniontown. Rick was a World War II Veteran, having served as Petty Officer G/M/1c in the US Navy. He served in the Armed Guard American Theater, Asiatic, Pacific, India, and China Theaters of Operation, and US Naval Group, China, called SACO, and Navy Intelligence and Guerrilla Warfare. Rick was the recipient of various medals; The American Theater, Pacific Theater with one Bronze Star, Navy Good Conduct Medal, Navy Combat Medal, and a medal from the China Campaign. He was an 81 year member of The Albright United Methodist Church, So. Connellsville, where he served in various committees and Sunday School teacher of the Huber Bible Class, and a Church historian. Rick was a member of VFW Post 21, where he became a life member in 1943. He was an honorary member of the South Connellsville Fireman Western PA Fireman’s Assoc., member of Connellsville Sportsman Assoc., King Solomon Lodge 346 Lodge of Perfection of Uniontown, a 32nd Degree Mason of Consistory of Pittsburgh, former member of Syria Mosque Shrine of Pittsburgh, The Olivet Council of Greensburg, and Royal Arch of Connellsville. He was a former member of Connellsville City Council elected in 1956 and last surviving member of that council. In 1964 Rick organized the So. Connellsville Rod & Gun Club, where he held the office of President for 13 years. He was inducted into the Connellsville High School Hall of Fame, Class of 2014. He was also an amateur Ham Radio Operator. Rick is survived by his wife of 70 years, Rosemary (Capo) Tressler, a daughter Sandra Kay Russell, and two sons, Guy D. Tressler III, of Pittsburgh, and Mark D. Tressler of Connellsville, two grandchildren; Brennen D. Tressler and wife Liliana, and Devon Tressler, a great-grandson; Anthony Mark Tressler, and a sister Dolores Blaney. In addition to his parents; Rick was predeceased by three brothers; Arnold E. Tressler, Connell H. Tressler, and John William Tressler, and a son-in-law; Earl K. Russell.