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Speakers: Sailors of S.S. McKeesport 'Serve as Example' of Heroism

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
April 30, 2019
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Bruce Roberts and Tom Bergan raise a flag commemorating the S.S. McKeesport, which was sunk by a German torpedo in 1943. Also shown are Adam Striffler Gulaski and Tom Maglicco. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

The sacrifices made by the men of the S.S. McKeesport --- and by other merchant mariners during wartime --- provide a better model for living than the negativity presented by current events, speakers at a memorial service said Monday.

"Their sacrifice was not in vain," said the Rev. Boniface Igba of Auberle, who delivered the invocation during the commemoration of the 76th anniversary of the ship's sinking during World War II. "They serve as an example for us, especially in this time of division and pain and unceasing violence in this great nation of ours."

First launched in 1919 and built in part with steel forged in McKeesport, the ship carried emergency relief supplies for the Red Cross in 1940 and then was pressed into service during World War II to supply allied forces.

S.S. McKeesport was part of a convoy, ONS-5, that had delivered war materiel to Europe. It was returning to the United States when it was damaged by a German torpedo in the North Atlantic on April 29, 1943, and sank. Sixty-seven of its crew were rescued; one sailor died.

According to reports, of 42 merchant ships in the convoy, 13, including S.S. McKeesport, were lost.

Members of the McKeesport Area High School choir under the direction of Beth Eger perform "God Bless America" and "Heave Ho," the hymn of the U.S. Merchant Marine. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, a former teacher, said that when he was working in the classroom, he used to ask his pupils who their heroes were.

"Too often you got an answer like a movie star or a basketball player," he said. "But occasionally, you got 'our firefighters,' 'our police,' 'those who are serving in the military.'"

Those occasions were "teachable moments," Cherepko said. "We would have really good discussions about that."

The event at the Palisades Ballroom, Downtown, attracted nearly 200 people and included students from McKeesport Area High School Junior ROTC, members of the high school's band, orchestra and choir, the rifle squad from American Legion Post 447, Port Vue, and the Liberty Borough Veterans' Association, and Rege Riley, national commander of the AMVETS, as well as AMVETS Post 8 Commander Tom Bergan. 

(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Former Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn, one of the invited speakers, praised the S.S. McKeesport Committee for keeping the ship's memory alive.

"The Merchant Marine is such an unappreciated organization," Dunn said. "They supplied so much to the troops in World War II that we really could not have won the war without them."

He noted that the U.S. Merchant Marine had a higher per-capita casualty rate in World War II --- one in 26 --- than any other service.

Dunn also encouraged Mon-Yough residents to be proud of the region's contributions to American defense, saying "this really has been the 'Arsenal of Democracy.'"

Members of the S.S. McKeesport Committee include Tom Maglicco, Mary Ann Goldie, Laura W. Jenkins, Jim Fedasz, Dr. Rudy A. Antoncic, Bobbie Billsborrow, Sue Striffler Galaski, Ruth Antoncic, Frank Tarli, Bruce Roberts, Jennifer Vertullo, Ernie Oatneal and Tom Bergan.

Performing the Star-Spangled Banner are McKeesport Area High School Orchestra members Marena Mathe, Dylan Zavetsky, ZeVian Andrews and Matt Diamond. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Members of the rifle squad from American Legion Post 447, Port Vue, and the Liberty Borough Veterans' Association, wait before Monday's commemoration. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Jason Togyer is the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published April 30, 2019.

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