Natick project preserves WWII veterans' memoriesBy CHRIS BERGERON , Associated Press
Jul. 21, 2013 5:32 AM ET
NATICK, Mass. (AP) — From his regular spot at Dunkin' Donuts Joseph Poshefko could recall scavenging for coal in Depression-era Pennsylvania, fighting with the Flying Tigers in China, then moving to Natick where he led the Civil Defense and raised a family.
Born into a family of 10 children, the rugged, unassuming man known as "Joe Poko" rubbed shoulders with Charles Lindberg, Jayne Mansfield and Neil Armstrong and appeared on the Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey shows.
Poshefko died in his sleep July 8 at the age of 97 in his home in Natick, ending a life that nearly spanned the American Century. He was one of four known surviving members of the American Volunteer Group, popularly called Flying Tigers that are credited with destroying 300 Japanese airplanes in 1941 and 1942.
"Dad was a talker, not a writer. He was the mayor of Dunkin' Donuts," said his son, Robert Poshefko, of Hopkinton. "My father was a walking, talking history lesson."
Poshefko belonged to a generation of 16 million World War II veterans who are dying at a rate of 600 a day, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration.
Just over one million of those vets are alive today and their memories of the war's hardships, horrors and heroism are disappearing at the rate of one every two minutes.
But many local veterans are preserving and sharing their stories in varied ways.
Poshefko, who was active in the AVG's national organization, was one of the first to record his story with the Natick Veterans Oral History Project.
Founded by Pearl Harbor survivor Eugene Dugdale, who died in 2006, the project has filmed interviews with 240 veterans from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. Hosted by the Morse Institute Library, it has a website, www.natvets.org, which also has preserved some veterans' journals, letters and documents.
Coordinator Maureen Sullivan said the Oral History Project works with the library and schools to organize an annual breakfast in which veterans share their experiences with the public.
For Isadore Cutler, filming his story of landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day and liberating fellow Jews at Buchenwald concentration camp with the project provides some relief from painful memories that won't go away after 69 years.
The 89-year-old Framingham resident wants coming generations to know wars are fought by ordinary men like him who endured suffering, loneliness and fear and are driven by dreams of getting home to loved ones.
"The message I want to tell is that war is horrible. You just try to stay alive," Cutler said, leafing through a photo album with his wife, Phyllis. "At Omaha Beach, we waded ashore past dead bodies. At Buchenwald, we saw people walking around like living skeletons and open pits with the naked bodies of women and children."
Cutler and two other area veterans were awarded France's Legion of Honor for their roles liberating Europe recently in Boston in a ceremony celebrating Bastille Day. He also participates in German-Jewish Dialogue, a program at Brandeis University in which people of different backgrounds seek ways to overcome historical injustices.
But Ralph Steeves, who parachuted into France prior to the D-Day landings, has only discussed his experiences with his children and grandchildren and feels "it's too late" to have them recorded for posterity.
"Everything's changed. Nothing seems to matter to kids today," said the 90-year-old Milford resident. "If they restored the draft, that'd straighten them out."
Joseph Manella, of Milford, has taken a unique approach to sharing his story of finding his life's purpose amid the squalor and suffering of a Japanese POW camp.
As a memorial to his late wife, Anne, he donated a majestic stained glass window to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hopedale where he's served as deacon for 35 years. It features the vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus he saw while deathly ill that convinced him he'd been saved when parachuting with a faulty chute and through three bouts of malaria to do good in the world.
Manella told his story of discovering "God's plan" in the POW camp in an extensive interview conducted by Michael Matondi for The Heart of the Matter, the Hopedale church's newsletter.
"I've given my story to my family and my parish. It came from my heart," said the 94-year-old retired principal. "I placed my life in the hands of God and he took care of me."
Over the last several years Hank Allessio has kept alive the memories and stories of hundreds of servicemen and women by producing "Veterans Remember" for HCAM, Hopkinton's cable television station.
An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, he has "no title and no budget" at HCAM but was determined to recognize the military service of anyone "who'd lived in Hopkinton for a minute and worn a uniform."
Allessio has created an online photo gallery of 473 images of Hopkinton men and women who've served in the military dating back to the Spanish American War.
Working with station staffers, he produces "Veterans Remember," a 30-minute show hosted by Dick Gooding, a West Point graduate who interviews veterans of all ages.
Allessio also writes and posts moving, well-documented obituaries in "Veterans Depart," which chronicles their subject's military service and, often, details their life afterward.
Harry Serulneck takes a "boots on the ground" approach to sharing his story of trudging across Europe with the 87th Infantry Division, acquiring a Bronze Star and a mix of hard and happy memories.
A rebellious Brooklyn kid who loved to shoot pool and rhumba at Roseland, he joined the army in time to cross the Rhine in a rubber raft and "really chill out" in the Battle of the Bulge.
Still garrulous at 95, the Framingham resident has been a constant presence in local veterans organizations, serving as an officer and chaplain in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He's been a frequent newspaper columnist, spoken at local schools and was recently profiled in Suzanne Mettler's book, "Soldiers to Citizens."
But he said he was especially happy to share his story with his great-grandson, Justin Serulneck-Tineo, who wrote an essay about him for school.
The young boy from Northport, N.Y., described Serulneck' duty in Central Europe, liberating Ohrdruf concentration camp, destroying a tank with a bazooka and capturing a Nazi officer.
Serulneck-Tineo concluded by writing that his great-grandfather now serves with the Golden Acorns — older veterans who bring meals to older and housebound vets and drive them to church and doctor's appointments.
"Harry is my hero," his great-grandson wrote, "and I hope he will always be remembered."