Michael Haritan was a Dogface soldier during WW II. He was only 20 years old when he went into the Army, serving with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division from January 14, 1943 to December 11, 1945. Landing in North Africa, he slogged up the Italian peninsula and endured some of the most horrific combat of the war. Allied control over southern Italy was crucial, but it came at a long, slow, exacting price as Messina, Salerno, Taranto, Naples, Volturno, Foggia, Cassino, Anzio, and finally Rome were wrestled from the Germans.
While the invasion of Normandy gets much credit for leading to the end of the European war, the effort to reach Berlin from the south was equally heroic, bloody, and in many ways, a great unsung sacrifice—a fact that still rests uneasy with many surviving soldiers of the Italian Campaign.
We frequently get the opportunity to record our veterans’ interviews at the venerable Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Situated in the busy Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the great Hall is a central landmark that sits high above 5th Avenue, like a citadel.
Yet, despite its urban location for a hundred years, many residents still don’t know much about the museum. As if hidden in plain sight, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum is the nation’s only military museum dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service.
That mission complements our own commitment to preserve the stories of local veterans from all branches of service and eras—including the often forgotten Cold War. Of course, because time is running out we prioritize working with the WW II generation, as was the case during this recording session; seven of the eight veterans we interviewed served during WW II.
Over two days (November 21st and 22nd) we welcomed our participating veterans to the museum’s grand Gettysburg Room, where we set up our mobile recording studio. It’s a popular recording space, often seen in local documentaries; the History Channel likes to record here as well.
Again this year the recording project was joined by the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a communications unit in the Army Reserve located in Coraopolis, Pa. The mission of the 354th is to publicize the Army and its history.
“In addition to our own interviews,” said director Todd DePastino of the Veterans Breakfast Club, “each year we arrange for the 354th MPAD to interview Army veterans. It’s a wonderful experience for our WW II vets to talk with today’s uniformed soldiers, and I think the Reservists feel the same way.”
We were also joined by Nick Wells of Mt. Lebanon, an active member of our volunteer creative team. Nick was instrumental in helping us greet veterans and prepare them for their interviews.
In My Own Words
This interview was recorded November 22, 2013 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Interviewers: Todd DePastino, Kevin Farkas, Nick Wells.
Michael Haritan, age 91, of Dormont, went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday, January 28, 2015. Born in Carnegie, PA on November 13, 1923, to immigrant parents from Ukraine, he attended Carnegie High School and received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. He also attended St. Francis College and the University of Virginia.
A WWII veteran, Michael served in the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. After returning from the war, he began dating the love of his life, Alice Kucher, and they married in September 1948. Michael worked as a draftsman at Westinghouse Atomic, Blaw-Knox, and Obenchain Engineering and worked as a drafting and design teacher at Connelley Vocational High School in the Pittsburgh Public School System for over 25 years before retiring in 1989.
He loved his family, gardening, bowling, boating, dancing, reading, singing, traveling, vacations to the beach, decorating Ukrainian pysanky, making Ukrainian pyrohy, playing the harmonica, and eating and sharing M&M’s. Michael was a longtime, active member of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, Friends of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, and the Pittsburgh Folk Festival since its founding in 1956. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Alice; six children, Michael E. (Jane) Haritan, Dianne (Mike) Brown, Elaine Kimber, Adrienne (Alan) English, Monica Haritan, and Timothy (Andrea) Haritan; and 14 grandchildren, Matt (Christina), Andrew, Adam, and Danny Haritan, Neal (Kristin) and Amy Brown, Caryn (Joe) Bevins, Alex and Ian Kimber, Alana, Alden, and Alicia English, and Allegra and Tyler Haritan; as well as two great-grandchildren, Ella and Mila Haritan.