Tony Piskurich, a lifelong resident of Johnstown, didn't have many tangible ways to remember his parents – George and Olga Piskurich. The couple died in the early morning hours of July 20, 1977, when Laurel Run Dam collapsed, nearly destroying the Tannerville section of the city. All that remained of the Piskurich family home at 681 Cooper Ave. was five concrete blocks that were once part of the garage.
Tony was at a nearby church doing some singing when the rain began that warm July evening. After several attempts to get home, he called the house and spoke to his mother who told him he should spend the night at the church. So he and his friends did just that, riding out the storm by singing and laughing and doing what young people do.
It took Tony two days to be able to get back to what was once his home and several days to learn the awful truth – that his parents had perished in the flood.
“It is difficult to put into words how one's life can be so horribly altered in a matter of moments,” Tony writes in the book's prologue. “Not only did I lose my beloved parents, I also lost my home and all of my worldly possessions.”
Several weeks later, his aunt handed Tony a box he describes as a “veritable treasure.” It held photos of his parents and other family members. It also contained his and his brother's old report cards and a mysterious brown envelope marked “George's War Letters.”
Tony says many of the photos were eventually hung in frames on the walls of his home, but the letters remained unread for many years. “I was afraid I would break down if I read Dad's letters, and for a long time I did not bring them out... The letters remained in my desk drawer...
“I don't remember the impetus which caused me to read dad's letters... (but) once I had, I knew I had to write this book about them.”
What follows are excerpts from the letters written by his father during his years serving in World War II. They give voice to a lonely soldier who longs for home.
George Piskurich writes of the sights he sees, the people he comes in contact with, the holidays spent miles from home, the ways he managed to keep his Roman Catholic faith, and his appreciation for his mail and items sent from home. What he doesn't reveal in his letters is his fear and the danger he and his comrades faced.
Most of his letters contain some reference as to how healthy he was. His loved ones back in Johnstown should not worry. Sure he was in France and Germany and England and sure, there was a war. But you might not know it to read George's letters home.
Apparently, he felt the need to stay strong so his loved ones at home could do likewise.
I thoroughly enjoyed this heartfelt little book and I am sure it was a healing exercise for the author.
Letters From Dad will be appreciated by anyone with a strong attachment to Johnstown and by those who want to know more about the everyday lives of a WWII soldier.