Westmoreland County







Book a time
Contact Details


POSTED ON 3.18.2002
POSTED BY: Jim Schuck

John Michael Galata, Greensburg Salem High School Class of 1966

This is John's highschool yearbook picture. When I look at him, I think of how much he sacrificed. He never got to marry, have kids, have a career or enjoy all of the things in life that have happened in the 34 years since his death. He sacrificed so much. So much.
read more read less
POSTED ON 3.18.2002
POSTED BY: Jim Schuck

Names On The Wall


by Jim Schuck

I wrote this narrative in 1992 for a college writing course. As the years pass, I find myself reading it over again and adding thoughts and experiences that come to me with the passing years. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial located at Twin Lakes Park in Greensburg, Pa.,shown in the picture above, was dedicated on November 11, 2000 to all of those men from Westmoreland County who served in Vietnam, with the names of those who gave their lives chisled into the same granite as that used for "The Wall" in Washington, DC.

Throughout my senior year at Greensburg-Salem High School, I told my friends I was going to join the Air Force. As an average student enrolled in the academic program, I was preparing for a college career that would never materialize. Instead, my fascination with airplanes and things mechanical steered me toward the Air Force. However, my dad was not crazy about the idea. Like many fathers of the time, the Vietnam war worried him a great deal. He didn't want me to join the Armed Forces. "Come work at Robertshaw for a while," he would say. "I can get you a job if you want one."

To make him happy, I went to work for Robertshaw Controls after high school graduation. As it turned out, I worked a mere 23 days before I was laid off. It was an annual occurrence at the thermostatic control manufacturer; hire college kids for the summer, then cut the workforce when the new school year approached. Working at Robertshaw was a good summer job if you were a college student.

Frustrated by the layoff, I became more determined to join the Air Force. At the recruiter's office, I received the results of my test scores and was told I qualified to choose any training field offered by the Air Force at the time. I chose jet-engine mechanics. After passing a thorough physical examination, the Air Force scheduled me to report for duty in January of 1967.

Induction day came quickly and I arrived at the Air Force office in Pittsburgh, thinking I was headed to Texas for basic training. Before I could be sworn in, I had to take a routine spot-physical. During the examination, an Air Force doctor noticed a small skin rash behind my knee. This condition was cause for rejection and I was sent home, disappointed; my future in limbo again. Ironically, Robertshaw called me back to work on February 1, 1967 and I went back thinking military service was behind me.

Months later, on a sunny Saturday morning in August, I entered the front door of our Forest Avenue home and was welcomed by my dad's voice. "The mailman brought you your Greetings." "What?", I blurted. He handed the letter to me and, sure enough, there in the first line of the letter's text were those infamous words dreaded by almost every young man of draft age during the 1960's. "Well, it looks like I'm going after all," I responded.

At work, I applied for a military leave-of-absence and prepared for my final days of freedom. My buddies threw me a big farewell party. Finally, it came time for me to report to the Selective Service assembly point on Harrison Avenue in downtown Greensburg. School buses were waiting to transport the latest group of draftees to the world of military service.

Gazing out the window of the selective service bus on that dark September morning, I could see my whole family sitting in our red, 1963 Chevrolet Impala. Framed by the passenger side car windows were the crying faces of my sister Kathe, my little brother Mike and my mom. Dad and my brother John appeared as though they had lost their last friend in the world. I felt so bad, not only for them, but also for myself because I would not see them for a long time. Had I been going off to college like most of my friends, the departure would have been a positive experience for all of us. Soon, the buses departed and the view of the old Chevy faded quickly, replaced by the noisy busload of 18 and 19 year-old young men who found themselves contemplating an uncertain future. That school bus carried kids from all backgrounds; black and white; preppie and hippie. Most were just average kids like me.

One of those long-haired "hippies" on the bus resembled the classic portrait of Jesus, so much that the others on the bus who knew him called him "J.C." (I didn't realize it back then, but Jesus was with me on that trip). Every soul on that bus envisioned boot camp and later, the horrors of Vietnam. You could read their faces and feel their vibes. The same body language emanated from all of us.

When the bus arrived in Pittsburgh, we were herded up to the 17th floor of the Federal Building. In the locker rooms, we were told to take all of our clothes off and line up in a single file. From there, they marched us, naked as the day we came into this world, through the hallways of that floor, to various stations where military doctors would probe, inspect, question, and probe again.

Dressed again, and waiting for my turn to be interviewed, I sat next to a window overlooking the river, watching the boats and barges go about their daily tasks as if nothing was happening. Silently, I asked, "Do you people down there know what they are doing to us?" Normal daily life seemed so distant at the moment. After the doctors completed the examinations, I found that I had again passed the physical. We were moved to a holding room and informed that our next destination would be Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We were told to go to the desk at the doorway, pick up our paperwork, and proceed to the next room where we would complete the swearing-in procedure. "Now it starts," I thought.

As I waited at the desk, the soldier in charge went through my paperwork file until he suddenly said to me, "You've been rejected before. Go into room across the hall and get a train ticket. You're going home." "But I passed the physical this time," I said. He reiterated, "I don't care!" "Go get that train ticket!" Returning to the locker room to retrieve my things, I was questioned by some of the guys from the bus. They asked where I was going. When I told them, one kid said dejectedly, "I wish I was going home." I heard quite a few "me too's" echo in the locker room, reinforcing the sentiments of that already home-sick draftee.

My family was certainly not expecting me to walk through the front door in time for supper that evening. Naturally, mom and dad were extremely happy at the sight of their oldest son. The feelings of joy and love my family expressed at my arrival have never been forgotten. I guess you could say I was their "prodigal son," lost but now found.

From that time forth, I thought of those guys on the bus who were inducted; those who may have suffered; those who may have died. I have searched my mind for reasons why I was spared while they were called to serve. My only conclusion, to this day, has been that the good Lord had mercy on my worried father and answered his prayers. Since that day, I have felt both relief at being spared and regret for not having had the opportunity to experience military life. I wondered if I would have had the courage needed to survive the ordeal of Vietnam. I would never find out.

The Vietnam Memorial, more commonly known as "The Wall" was dedicated in November of 1982. When Ann, the kids and I visited it in 1986, we were moved by the somber mood of those gathered there in search of the names of loved ones or friends among 58,000 plus, men and women memorialized on "The Wall."

During 1967, and in the years to follow, many would die in Southeast Asia. Everyday life in the 1970s and 1980s would often bring reminders of six men I knew, who lost their lives there. Some were friends; others were upperclassmen in school. Some I met in life's passing. As I recited the names of those six young men from memory, Ann wrote them down on a page of a little notepad she had in her purse. Then she recorded the "Wall" locations of their names as I looked them up in the directories provided for such purposes. We searched and found each name. Chills went up my spine as I read those epitaphs chiseled into the polished, mirror-like, black granite slabs. One by one, the images of their youthful faces came back to me. They would never age any further. Locked in time, they would always remain young.

John Michael Galata was the first soldier I recalled. A fellow member of the Greensburg-Salem High School Class of 1966, John was a friend through junior and senior high school. He always called me "Shook;" never by my first name. His thick, blond hair and a slight country-boy accent, combined with his quiet nature, overshadowed his intelligence. After his transition to college, I lost touch with him, as with so many friends and acquaintances after high school graduation. He was killed in Vietnam on January 6, 1968, just two months shy of his 20th birthday. As I stared at his epitaph on the memorial, I thought, "Oh, God, he was only 19. My heart ached when I realized all he gave up. (In 1986, I was already twice his age). Feelings of guilt overcome me, as they always do when I think of these guys. I feel guilty for being alive.

Dennis Quentin Zambano was the older brother of my friend, Fred. We were typical post World War II baby boomer kids growing up in a housing development called Northmont. Both Fred and Dennis talked of the service when they were just boys. It was a family tradition to serve our country. Fred, or "Zeke" as his buddies called him, would later suffer injuries as a Marine in Vietnam. Their uncle, Domenic "Minnie" Campalongo lost a leg in World War II. Minnie worked with my dad in the production drafting department at Robertshaw.

Dennis was tall, with dark eyes and black hair. Most girls were attracted to him. His parents sent him to live with relatives in Washington state where he attended college and was later commissioned a Lieutenant in the United States Army. During his tour of duty in Vietnam, he was killed in action on October 15, 1967.

As boys, Dennis, Fred and I went to see a war movie at the Manos Theater in downtown Greensburg. I don't remember the title of that movie anymore but the memory of that day sticks in my head. I still see the three of us sitting in that grand old theater watching scenes of war and not realizing war's reality and how it would soon affect both of them.

I didn't know Edward John Ginter on a personal basis. I remember him as a tough lineman for the Greensburg football team. If I close my eyes, I can still picture him cruising in his decorated, blue, early fifties Ford at the old high school on Main Street.

"Gint" as he was nicknamed in the "64" yearbook, was said to be a great asset to the football team and his best moments in life were on the football field. The yearbook said he wanted to go to college and become a businessman. Instead, he died in Vietnam on February 26, 1967 at only 20 years of age.

Can you imagine riding a motorcycle down the centerline of Route 119, passing between cars in the process? Well, I saw Dick Cullen do that on the way to work one morning. Richard Ivory Cullen was that type of kid; full of life. Dick's dad also worked at Robertshaw. Dick and I both worked in the plating department at the plant in New Stanton. He was a "65" Greensburg graduate and had worked at the once famous "Harry's Pizza," owned by his family. Dick joined the Army during my first few weeks at Robertshaw and I didn't see him again. He died in Vietnam on May 23, 1968 at 20 years of age.

One brave soldier from Greensburg's Class of "67" was Vince Piscar, a short, feisty, Italian kid, the cousin of friend John Panichella. Vince was a member of the wrestling team at Greensburg. He exhibited the same quality I saw in all of the guys from Greensburg-Salem . . . a zest for life that the rest of us wish we had. I can only imagine John Panichella's pain when his family lost Vince on July 19, 1968.

I met Marine Corps brothers, Randy and Ricky Beanner when I started dating their sister. I confused their names back then, not knowing who was who, though they were not identical twins. Ricky had blond hair and a stocky build while Randy, the friendly one, wore glasses, had dark, curly hair and a wiry build. Actually, I was cautious of them, because they were two tough Marines.

Randy Beanner died in Vietnam on May 12, 1968, only one week after arriving there. Things never worked out between his sister and me. Feeling like an outsider, I didn't go to his funeral. I have always felt regret for not having done so. I won't forget him, that's for sure.

In 1986, the movie "Platoon" came to the big screen. Graphic and controversial, it went on to win an Academy Award. Months after its release, it came to video and I rented it. Alone with my thoughts and memories of those on the bus and those six men, I watched the scenes of death and destruction. Did they have to endure all this? How and where did they die? Were they alone? Were they thinking of home? Of family? Perhaps they were thinking of their high school days and the friends they left behind? Nobody will ever know.

After the movie was over, I pushed the rewind button and walked toward the hallway when something fell from my wife's sewing machine onto the floor in front of me. I stooped to pick it up and paused in disbelief; it was the long forgotten notebook from our visit to "The Wall." Lying face up was the page with the names of those same six men. Was this just a coincidence or perhaps a privileged spiritual experience? Was I reading more into this occurrence than I should have? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know one thing for sure . . . I'll be thinking of them again come November 11, Veterans' Day.

Yesterday, March 9, 2002, my wife Ann and I went to see the movie "We Were Soldiers," staring Mel Gibson. There were times during the movie that I fought back the tears. Later, when Ann and I had left the theater and were in our van, I found out that she felt the same feelings I had felt. Neither of us could talk about it right away because we were fighting the tears. I realized after watching the movie, that it is not only for those soldiers that I cry, but also for their families.

The opening screen of "Platoon" quoted from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 11, verse 9. It reads: "Rejoice, 0 young man in thy youth and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth and walk in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."

If I close my eyes, I can see them all; John, Dennis, Gint, Vince, Dick and Randy, standing with Jesus. You can see them, can't you?
read more read less
1 2 3 4