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Andrew LaPatka

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On Thursday, August 10, 1916, John & Mary (Brinczk) LaPatka of Chewton, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, became the proud parents of a newborn son named Andrew. Andrew, who became known simply was Andy, was the LaPatka’s sixth child. Andy’s parents had both immigrated to western Pennsylvania from the Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Slovakia) in the 1890’s, met and started a family in the metropolis of Pittsburgh, and settled further north in Lawrence County.

Andy was born in the midst of the “Great War” (later known as World War I), the monumental struggle raging across the European continent. The LaPatka family - then spelled as the traditional LoPatka - was potentially in a bad spot as their home country of Austria-Hungary was aligned with Imperial Germany. Sometime after war broke out the Reverend Frances A. Maloney, the pastor of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in nearby Wampum, apparently convinced John LoPatka to change the spelling of the family surname to the more Americanized form of “LaPatka.” This was probably suggested as a way to distance the family from their native Austro-Hungarian homeland, which was aligned with Imperial Germany during the Great War.

The LaPatka family lived on Plum Way just off the ball field in the middle of Chewton. Sometime during the timeframe 1913-1917 (possibly before Andy was born) his parents rented out their house in Chewton and moved the whole family by train to Cleveland, Ohio. After only three months they packed up and moved back to their home on Plum Way in Chewton.

In June 1917, just prior to Andy’s first birthday, the LaPatka’s moved to a sixteen-acre farm on the outskirts of Chewton on Tony Dytko Road. With nine total children including Andy (another two died in infancy) the family had a lot more room to grow out in the countryside. Five more kids would be born out at the farm from 1920-1926.

While growing up Andy and his brothers and sisters attended the Chewton Independent School District, a collection of three wooden schoolhouses located where the Chewton playground stands today. Andy would have started school in the fall of 1922. During the 1928-1929 school year he was in the seventh grade and had Edrye A. Cox as his teacher. Among his classmates were Camelia Fidell, Frank Powell, Keith Sbarra, Mary Rychlicki, Balvine Modliszewski, and his brother John LaPatka. Andy would have graduated from the eighth grade in June 1930 when he was not quite fifteen years old. He did not go on to attend high school.

Andy graduated just as the good times of the 1920’s had come to an end and the Great Depression was beginning its decade-long stranglehold on the country. The national unemployment rate would jump dramatically, but Andy was able to secure employment at the Ellwood City works of National Tube, a division of U.S. Steel, and affectionately known by the locals as “the Tube Mill.”

I believe he worked there as a steel worker for almost ten years before he was one of eight men from Lawrence County drafted into the U.S. Army on Tuesday April 22, 1941. The peacetime draft had been initiated in September 1940 to beef up the U.S. military in light of events in Europe. In the meantime Andy started dating a young lady named Mary V. DeAngelo from the nearby town of West Pittsburg. She was one of eight children and the daughter of Antonio and Elvira (Diodata) DeAngelo.

After undergoing basic training Andy, a skilled horseman, was soon assigned to the Third Cavalry Division at Fort McNair, Virginia. In the early 1940’s the U.S. Cavalry was beginning a steady transition from a horse mounted unit to a modern mechanized reconnaissance and attack force. The pace was quickened beginning on December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked the American military fortress in and around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Andy underwent additional training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Benning, Georgia. At Fort Benning he joined the 10th Armored Division, a tank unit that was activated in July 1942. The new unit, nicknamed the Tiger Division, was composed of three tank battalions, three armored infantry battalions, three armored field artillery battalions, and various other battalions. Andy was assigned to the 21st Tank Battalion and would be trained to drive a M4 Sherman medium tank, the mainstay of the U.S. military which went into service in North Africa in late 1942. The Sherman was inferior to German tanks in most aspects but would have an advantage in sheer numbers.

Andy also returned home on leave that fall and married his girlfriend Mary at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in New Castle, Pennsylvania, on Sept 15, 1942. The Reverend Philip Ghushetzsky presided over the service. She continued to live in West Pittsburg, but often visited Andy at the various bases where he was stationed. Mary soon found employment at the Sears Roebuck & Company in New Castle. Andy was promoted to corporal (later re-designated as technician fifth grade) in November 1942.

In late June 1943, the 10th moved to the Tennessee Maneuvers area in middle Tennessee. They took part in war games along the Cumberland River, where the terrain was similar to what they would later face in Europe. A few months later, in early September 1943, they moved to Camp Gordon in eastern Georgia to continue training. In August 1944 the 10th was transferred to Camp Shanks, a large military embarkation port dubbed “Last Stop USA,” located along the Hudson River just north of New York City. On September 12-13, 1944, the unit bypassed England and set sail directly for northern France, where Allied forces had undertaken a massive invasion back on June 6.

After landing at the port of Cherbourg on September 23, the 10th set up camp at nearby Teurtheville and underwent a month of specialized training. In late October 1944, after more than two years of training, the 10th was finally called to prove itself. The division moved east to the Lorraine region in eastern France. Along the way they passed through a host of liberated towns and cities including Paris. The Tigers entered combat for the first time at Mars-la-Tour on November 2, 1944. Two weeks later the division joined the fight to reduce the stubborn enemy presence at the fortress city of Metz, and then pursued the retreating Germans from town to town.

On December 17, as the 10th prepared to drive towards the German border, it was hurried ordered north into Luxembourg to help stop a furious German counterattack known as the Ardennes Offensive. Elements of the division dug in and defended positions east of the vital crossroads town of Bastogne, Belgium, against heavy opposition. Before long the Allied forces defending the area around Bastogne, already facing a vicious winter storm, were surrounded and under siege for over a week. This desperate action, known as the Battle of the Bulge, eventually resulted in an American victory and pretty much signaled the end of significant German military resistance.

The 10th rested for a spell in January 1945 before taking up defensive positions along the eastern side of the Saar River. They returned to the attack on February 20 while helping clear the Saar-Moselle triangle, and then pushed north liberating dozens of urban centers along the way including Trier, Kaiserslauten, and Mannheim. The hard-charging Tiger division crossed the Rhine River at Mannheim on March 15, pushed south through southern Germany against sporadic resistance, crossed the Danube River on April 23-25, and liberated Polish prisoners from the Turkheim subunit of the Dachau concentration camp on April 27. They reached the area near Innsbruck in northern Austria when Germany officially surrendered on May 7, 1945. The 10th had an outstanding combat record and was credited with capturing 650 towns and cities along with 56,000 German Prisoners-of-War (POWs).

The division took up occupation duty in southern Bavaria (until ordered home in September 1945), but at some point Andrew was sent home to join another division. He was soon on a train headed west to join the war in the Pacific against Japan. On August 15, 1945, on the same day Japan officially surrendered, Andy mailed a letter to his mom from Omaha, Nebraska, that read:

“Hello Mom & Dad. Stopped at Omaha, Neb, on are (sic) way to Cal, just long enough to buy some cards. It’s hard writing while the train is moving but I’m doing it any way. I hope the war is over before we get there. It should. I feel fine & don’t worry. I may be home soon. Tell every one I said hello. So Long & Good Luck. Andy”

Before to long Andy accepted a discharge, returned home to western Pennsylvania, and went back to work at National Tube in Ellwood City. Mary continued to work at Sears and over the years became a member of several business organizations. I am not sure where they initially lived but sometime later they purchased a house (it was built in 1952) and took up residence at #211 W. Fairmont Avenue in New Castle. They also started attending the Northminster Presbyterian Church, located not far from their new home. Andy and Mary never had any children together and they loved to go on vacations. Over the years they traveled extensively to such places as Scotland, Cuba, and Germany.

Andy soon lost both of his parents, as his father John died in July 1949 and his mother Mary passed away a few years later in February 1952. They were both laid to rest at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery in Slippery Rock Township just outside New Castle.

Andy and Mary made their longtime home on W. Fairmont Avenue. Andy worked at National Tube in Ellwood City until it closed down in 1973 due to the decline of the steel industry. He was only fifty-seven years old at the time and was not eligible for full retirement pay from U.S. Steel.

Mary worked at Sears for almost forty years and retired in about 1980. Mary later grew ill and began suffering from cancer. She suffered through a long illness and passed away on Thursday, May 23, 1985, in the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. She was seventy years old. A viewing was held at the R. Cunningham Funeral Home in New Castle on May 24 and 25. A service was conducted at the Northminster Presbyterian Church at 2:00pm on Sunday, May 26, and presided over by the Reverend John W. Sloat. Afterwards, she was entombed in the mausoleum in Castle View Memorial Gardens near her home in New Castle.

Andy was saddened by the loss and continued to live alone on W. Fairmont Avenue. A few years later he met Laura Ann (DeVincentis) Pandolfi, an elderly widower who lost her husband Anthony Pandolfi back in 1985 as well. They were married - most likely in Vero Beach - in Indian River County, Florida, on March 23, 1990. Andy was seventy-three and Laura was seventy-two. They took up residence in Andy’s home in New Castle. I believe they started attending St. Vitus Catholic Church where Laura was a parishioner.

In later years Andy began to suffer from various ailments and eventually had both of his legs amputated. He continued to get around in a motorized scooter. Heart disease got the best of him and he was later admitted to Jameson Hospital. He suffered a heart attack and died at 9:35am on Wednesday March, 31, 2004. He was eighty-seven years old.

The arrangements were handled by the R. Cunningham Funeral Home in New Castle. A viewing was held at 7:00-9:00pm on Thursday and from 10:30-11:30am on Friday. Immediately after the Friday viewing a memorial service, presided over by the Reverend John Petrarulo of St. Vitus Church, was held at the funeral home. The New Castle Area Veterans Honor Guard provided military rites. Andy was entombed next to his first wife Mary in the mausoleum at Castle View Memorial Gardens.

Laura, suffering from her own illnesses, sold Andy’s long time home and moved into the Rhodes Estates senior apartments in New Castle. She died in her apartment on the morning of Wednesday February 2, 2005, at the age of eighty-seven. A Mass of Christian Burial service was held at 12:30pm on Saturday, February 5, at St. Vitus Church. She was interred next to her first husband in St. Vitus Cemetery in Shenango Township, New Castle.