There are more than 19,000 veterans in the city of Pittsburgh, and many of them are your friends and neighbors right here in Mt. Lebanon. On this important day of appreciation, we would like to honor our veterans by sharing the names and stories of some of the vets who work for Mt. Lebanon Municipality. They work as firemen, police officers, crossing guards, and in the municipal offices, and they continue to serve their community every day through their careers in the public sector.
“I was sick of my Mom telling me what to do all the time. So I joined the Marine Corps. Where they told me exactly what to do 24 hours a day for nine years.” –Haya Eason, Former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and current Administrator for Mt. Lebanon Municipality
When she told her parents in 1981 that she would be joining the U.S. Marine Corps, Haya Eason’s mom cried hysterically and her dad, a former U.S. Army officer, was hopeful that this choice would help to teach her some responsibility and show her the world.
Haya was intimidated at the prospect of going to straight from high school to college, where she would be responsible for herself amongst thousands of other students, so she thought the military would be a reasonable alternative. “But the real reason I joined was 6’2” and from Alabama,” jokes Haya, whose boyfriend wound up getting a medical discharge while she ended up serving for nine years.
“It wasn’t until after I had enlisted that I realized how little I knew about what I had done,” says Haya. She underwent eight weeks of boot camp, but remembers that the rules were one of the hardest things to cope with. Everything from the length of hair they could have, to their clothes and the types of makeup they could wear were regulated (they were only allowed to wear Maybelline makeup, “Which did not have a lot of options for black women at the time,” she recalls). “But I was never one of those ‘Can I go home now?’ people,” says Haya. “It just wasn’t bad enough for me.”
Haya served in administration in the Marines. She was stationed first at Camp Le Jeune, North Carolina, before moving to the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina. Her enlistment was up in 1990, only two months before troops were sent overseas for combat in the Gulf War. During her time in the military, she met people from all walks of life, made lifelong friends, met her husband and learned about her love for administration.
“I’ve always loved helping people, though I don’t think I knew that when I signed up,” says Haya, whom you may have encountered before at the customer sertvice center in the municipal building. “In the Marine Corps, I came into contact with people of different ethnicities, ages and from all over the country. I find I enjoy administration now because I learned that I love to be around people.”
“My buddy said ‘Let’s go into the service’, and I thought it was a good idea. Then he didn’t pass his medical exam— So I’m on the train bawling my eyes out, and he’s at home!” -Ronald Serafini, Former Corporal in the U.S. Army and current crossing guard at Markham School on Crescent Drive
It was 1948 when Ronald Serafini enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was 18 years old, had a sweetheart back home, and when his friend John suggested they join the Army, he didn’t think twice. But John didn’t pass his medical exam, so Ronald went off to basic training alone.
Despite the usual, getting up at 3 a.m. in the rain, boot camp routine, Ronald had a positive attitude. “It was tough, but it was a good experience,” he says, “and let me tell you, after eight weeks of that, you feel like you are on vacation.”
Following basic training, Ronald was deployed to a headquarters company in Japan. He was able to choose a specialty there, so he spent some time training to become part of a construction team. He changed his mind after a while and decided to switch to Radio & Electrical, where he learned how to lay down communication lines.
“I went to Korea next,” says Ronald, “I watched the construction team I trained with get into a truck, drive away, and never come back. And I would have been with them.” He wrote his girlfriend a “Dear John letter” during this time, telling her that she should move on with her life because he didn’t think he was going to make it— most of his company did not.
Ronald got injured on a hydroponic farm in Korea and returned to the headquarters company in Japan. His enlistment ended there, and he was sent back to the United States. He then decided to reenlist and go to mechanical school, which took him out of the infantry.
Though he quickly learned that mechanical work was not his cup of tea. He was deployed to Germany, where he packed up his toolbox and approached his commanding officer and said, “I hate this mechanic work, sir.” His commanding officer was puzzled, but decided to send him with a construction team to a rock quarry. “We jack hammered holes in a cliff,” Ronald explained, “Then we put dynamite in the holes, and after the explosion, the Germans would come up and take the rocks, and we would help them make cobbles for their roads.”
Germany was Ronald’s last deployment, and he got the chance to travel a bit while he was there. He saw Paris, Rome and Switzerland. He remembers being with a friend at a restaurant in Italy when his friend said “We’ll have it made! Your family is Italian, so you can order the food.” So Ronald, whose Pittsburgh-based parents only spoke Italian when they didn’t want their kids to know what they were talking about, turned to the waitress and said, “He wants spaghetti and meatballs.”
“I came out of the service and teamed up with my wife,” says Ronald, who got married in September, 1954. He also finally got a chance to work with his friend John at the post office. Ronald retired from that job in 1987 and decided to take up work as a Mt. Lebanon crossing guard. He has been doing that for 27 years, where he has worked at Foster Elementary and St. Bernard’s, and he is currently at Markham School on Crescent Drive.
“I got a call on Christmas a couple years ago,” says Ronald. “I pick up the phone and hear, ‘Hey, Ringo! Do you recognize this voice?’ And it was a buddy of mine who was taken prisoner in Korea. I didn’t think he made it.” They had a reunion with another Army friend in Ohio, and it was just one of the times that he has reconnected with his his military friends throughout the years. “The army was a good experience,” Ronald says. “I made a lot of good friends, and I got to see the world.”
“Basic training was like pledging without the beer. It’s all one big mind-game.” – Ed Davies, Former Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and current Mt. Lebanon Fire Department Lieutenant and Technical Rescue Team Chief
After studying photojournalism at Clarion University, Ed Davies thought the military would be a good way to pay off his education. Coming from a long line of Western Pennsylvania firefighters and a volunteer firefighter and paramedic himself, he was hoping to pursue fire protection in the Air Force. “Believe it or not, they told me that my eyes weren’t good enough,” says Ed.
So he instead went off to basic training in 1988, on track to became an orthopedic specialist with the Air Force. He recalls arriving at 11 p.m. at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where there were weeks of pointless rules and mindless tasks. “The whole purpose of basic training is to tear everyone down and rebuild them back up,” says Ed, who recounts how something as simple as clothing had a protocol— “You have four sets of clothes: The one on your body, the one in the laundry and the two on top of your footlocker, but you never touch the one on the very top. You had to pull from the bottom set every day.”
Following basic training, Ed spent six months in Air Force Tech school, where he went through more training in orthopedics and assisted in surgery. He was then sent overseas to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, which was the largest U.S. Navy and Air Force base outside of the United States. “We landed on the tarmac in the Philippines on the fourth of July, and it was so hot that the rain was evaporating a foot of the tarmac. That’s how we knew it was hell,” jokes Ed.
Ed spent three years there as part of the 656 MiRRF, 656 TAC Hospital, where he responded to a revolution in Burma, two coups d’état in Manila and earthquakes in Japan and Luzon, among other emergencies. He remembers being in the operating room on base when an 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit Luzon. The epicenter was near Baguio, and the roads at Camp John Hay were destroyed in a mudslide. “The only way in was helicopters,” says Ed, “There were 1600 dead by the time we got there, and we were out in the streets for three days.”
Inspecting hospital facilities and participating in MEDCAP (medical civic action program) activities also took Ed to places such as Singapore, Thailand and Korea. He only had 30 days off in his three-year assignment in the Philippines, but it was not overly difficult for him to return to base. “The city was like the largest adult playground in the world,” says Ed, who also reminisced about watching the F-4 Phantom Fighter Planes in the sky—Clark Air Base was the last place to fly them.
Ed’s final assignment in the Air Force began with a flight that took him all the way around the globe before landing in King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia in 1991, just as Desert Shield was turning into Desert Storm. He was stationed about 20 miles outside of Kuwait during this time, where he mostly saw to POWs.
Today, Ed is a Lieutenant at Mt. Lebanon Fire Department and Chief of the Technical Rescue Team, which was recently named the 2015 Pennsylvania Rescue Service of the Year. He looks back on his time in the military and says, “I would recommend the military for any kid before college. It mellows you out and helps you to get your head on straight. It also makes you appreciate what you have. People who haven’t been to a third world country don’t realize how lucky they are.”
“If it were up to my Mom, my brother and I would still be living in our bedrooms upstairs in her house. My parents thought it would be a good opportunity, though.” –Merle Jantz, Former Specialist in the U.S. Army and current Managing Editor at mtl
Merle Jantz has been writing for Mt. Lebanon Magazine for 18 years. Readers may recognize his name from the bylines on municipal features and Around Town pieces. But a little-known fact about Merle is that he once served as an environmental health specialist in the U.S. Army.
“I wanted to save up some money for college, and I wanted to get out and see the world,” says Merle, who joined the U.S. army in 1977. He chose the Army because of the traveling opportunities and the job that it offered—environmental health specialist. Before the military started paying attention to field hygiene and food sanitation, almost as many troops were lost to illness as in combat. The environmental health specialists’s job is to monitor the water supply, inspect food for safety and learn to identify insects and the diseases they may carry, among other tasks.
After spending two months in boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Merle underwent four months of medical training in Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. “Training wasn’t that bad,” says Merle, “There is a little bit of harassment, but when you are 17, it’s all a game. If I had joined when I was 25 or 30, I don’t think I could have done it.”
He was first stationed at a chemical arsenal in Arkansas, which manufactured chemicals for the troops while also storing chemical, nerve, blister and mustard agents— all outlawed by the Geneva Convention. “I kept having these weird recurring dreams about the nuclear holocaust when I worked there,” Merle recalls. “They stopped as soon as I left.”
Merle then spent a year in Korea, where tensions were high. As a member of the 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, he remembers being placed on alert for shooting incidents and one particular occurrence of a patrol tripping a land mine in the Demilitarized Zone that formed the border between North and South Korea.
His last few months in the army were spent at Fort Indianatown Gap, Pennsylvania, where he worked with Cuban refugees from the Marielista Boatlift of 1980. While there, he cared for the inhabitants of the base, which included determining the source of a large food-borne outbreak which had affected a number of troops who were supporting the refugees.
Following his time in the military, Merle went to California University and then went on to grad school at Point Park University before pursuing a career in writing. “If I had gone straight to college, I probably would have partied for a semester and joined in January instead of July,” says Merle. “You are given so much responsibility in the army. It helps to give you the emotional maturity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
“They wouldn’t let me ski behind the boats in the navy, so I went with the Army. But I wasn’t allowed to ski behind the Zodiacs either. Not that we didn’t try.” – Ron Gray, Former Sergeant in the U.S. Army and current IT Technician for Mt. Lebanon Municipality
With a kid on the way and a family full of military personnel, it was a natural decision for self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie Ron Gray to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1996. “I got married three days before I left, and my honeymoon was basic training,” says Ron.
So three days after his wedding, Ron found himself in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he began his eight-year military career. Basic training was not entirely unpleasant for Ron, who enjoyed the physical activity and the camaraderie with the other trainees in his group. As a bit of a troublemaker, he sometimes found himself “giving twenty” (pushups), to which his response was often, “Which arm?”
Despite the troublemaking, Ron received perfect scores in his personnel evaluations, and he then went on to Single Channel Radio Operator Training in Fort Gordon, Georgia. Military communications became his specialty, and he improved those skills at his first duty station in Fort Lewis, Washington and his second duty station at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was a member of the 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group.
Once he completed training, Ron was deployed overseas multiple times to various countries including Korea, Japan, Laos, Thailand and Canada. Ron was responsible for the communications of the special forces in each of these locations, which included everything from soldiers calling home to commanders calling in air strikes.
He also ran warfare exercises while overseas. He ran winter warfare exercises with the Canadians in Calgary, where the temperature was minus 80 on top of the mountains, and he ran parachuting exercises with the Thai, bringing his grand total of jumps to about 100 (“We were using their equipment, and it wasn’t pretty. There was barn rope involved,” says Ron). He also ran exercises in Laos in exchange for training about survival in Asia, which included the types of food that can be eaten. He recalls eating cobras with rice whiskey and comments, “If a guy from Laos ever hands you a leaf, don’t eat it.”
Ron was given a medical discharge in 2004 and went to the Pittsburgh Technical Institute for Computer and Network Systems Technology. He now works as an IT technician for Mt. Lebanon Municipality, but says he would go back to the Army tomorrow if he could. “It made me a better person,” says Ron. “It made me more accountable and made me who I am.”