Like many Korean War veterans, Mt. Lebanon’s Chuck Torisky is quiet about his service. It was a long time ago when he was drafted into the Army for two years as a radio operator. He was 21.
When you’re young, Chuck reflects, guys think they’re bullet proof. Invincible. Before going to war we thought it was like the movies. And then things are a lot different when you hear real bullets snapping over your head.
Indeed it was a long time ago, and memories of the fierce fighting have mostly faded, Chuck says. Combat veterans tend to talk about things matter of factly.
Korea was devastated by artillery fire and the people were so poor, Chuck recalls. “We saw some kids at the railroad station when we were going up north . . .”
He pauses mid-sentence. Some deeply buried emotion suddenly rises to the surface, striking him hard and fast. His voice quivers.
“I saw a kid with his leg off at the knee. He was begging for anything from the GIs, whatever he could get,” he says, trying to recover his composure. He apologizes, still wounded by the memory. “It still makes me feel sad.”
On a lovely September 14, 2014, Donna and Chuck Torisky invited us to their home in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania to interview a family friend. Major General Rosetta Burke of the New York Army National Guard grew up with Donna in Pittsburgh’s West End neighborhood, and she was in town to receive a special award of recognition from her high school alma mater.
Conducting the interview was short notice for us and we could only rustle up a one-person crew. Lights, cameras, sound gear: Our oral history interviews have a lot of moving parts. Despite being short handed, we couldn’t miss such an opportunity. Whatever it takes to get a story, we often say.
However, the night before our session we luckily found Todd DePastino to assist us in conducting Rosetta’s interview at the Torsiky home. Dr. DePastino is a cultural historian, author, and director of the non-profit Veterans Breakfast Club. Todd also knows the Torisky family. Donna and Chuck regularly attend VBC’s storytelling events held throughout the Pittsburgh area, and it was at a recent breakfast that we learned of Rosetta’s visit to Pittsburgh.
You know, Chuck Torisky is a Korean War veteran, mentioned Todd, adding that we should invite him to share his story with us–especially while we had our mobile recording studio set up in his living room.
Indeed, we hoped he would and he did.
But like many veterans of that era, we had to convince Chuck that his story is worth sharing. The veterans of the “Forgotten War” are usually a quiet group. Humble. They were called up, served their time, came home, and carried on–all without much public notice. For the most part, the Korean War veterans had no welcome home rallies. No parades. No thanks for their service. And for many years, hardly anyone asked these veterans to share their remarkable stories of service and sacrifice in Korea. 129, 000 dead and wounded Americans. Who remembers the forgotten? Who knows their stories?
A story not told is a story not heard, we often say. That’s why Chuck Torisky’s story matters.
In My Own Words
Listen to the complete audio interview produced by the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club, recorded September 14, 2014 in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, at the home of Donna and Charles Torisky. Interviewer: Todd DePastino. Audio: Kevin Farkas.