A grateful heart for their service

On Veterans Day today, Steubenville resident Dino Orsatti – whose face and voice are familiar to area residents from his years in the local communications industry – can’t help but respect even more his own father, Ernie U. Orsatti, 90, of Pittsburgh, a World War II veteran.

And that goes for his paternal grandfather as well – the late Benjamin Orsatti, a World War I veteran who was an outspoken critic of the fascist regime in Italy prior to the war and who became a U.S. citizen afterwards.

“Serving in World War II is part of what he meant to us, part of that generation,” Dino said of his father’s rightful place among “The Greatest Generation,” those who fought because it was the right thing to do and never made a big deal about it.

“He felt he had to do it, and he wanted to serve,” Dino said of his father’s quiet, matter-of-fact commitment to serve.

Dino is the WCDK-FM morning radio show host and a West Liberty University adjunct professor who grew up in Pittsburgh under the same roof as his father and grandfather. He has more than 40 years’ experience in television and radio journalism. He was an anchor for WTOV-TV and WTRF-TV, an adjunct professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and worked in Pittsburgh television.

“My brother (Ernie B. Orsatti, a Vietnam veteran) and I were both influenced tremendously by my dad, and he made us realize how important it was that veterans sacrificed their lives and how every war is important,” Dino said of his father, who witnessed death and violence during his service.

“It never made him a violent person, though, another thing I admired about him, and he never used that as an excuse to be a violent person. He did what he had to do,” Dino said.

Dino’s father, who was born Oct. 12, 1923, in Carpinone, Italy, was 19 when he was drafted out of his first year of college at Carnegie Institute of Technology – now Carnegie Mellon University – there on a full scholarship to study architectural engineering.

He initially served in an Army unit of replacements. His first overseas assignment was in Iceland, then it was on to England in the days leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Because of his dual citizenship and the fact that he was drafted by the Italian Army, his request not to be sent to Italy was granted by the Army.

On D-Day plus 19, Dino’s father landed in Normandy on Omaha Beach, from there assigned to various units of the Third, Sixth and Ninth Army throughout Europe.

He served under American generals George Patton and Omar Bradley and British general Bernard Montgomery.

In Europe, he saw combat in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany up to the Battle of the Bulge. Wounded with shrapnel in his leg from artillery, Dino’s father never received a Purple Heart, although he was entitled to it.

He served until the end of the war in Europe, and after his discharge, pursued studies in electrical engineering at a branch of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. In January 1949, he married Dorothy Pfeiffer.

The couple moved back to Pittsburgh and had two sons, Ernest B. Orsatti of Pittsburgh and Dennis “Dino” Orsatti .

Dino’s father hung out the shingle on one of the first television repair shops in Pittsburgh in 1949 during the infancy of commercial television, later working in sales at Equitable Gas Co. before becoming part owner of Eastwood Athletic Club in 1962. In 1974, he began working for the Catholic Cemeteries Association where he eventually became in charge of the construction of its mausoleums. Although he retired in 1993 at the age of 70, he continues to work as a consultant.

In 2012, he was asked to take on an 18-month, $4 million-dollar project for St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pa., a project he will bring to fruition in the spring of 2014 just a few months shy of his 91st birthday.

While Dino said he and his father have had conversations about his D-Day experiences, they haven’t been dramatic or dwelled upon.

“We talked about the stench and horror he saw, but he never really dwelled on that aspect of it. That generation was just so unselfish and matter-of-fact and this is what we should do, a no big deal kind of thing and so humble,” Dino said.

“My brother and I were real fascinated with stuff he had from the war,” Dino said. “He showed me a German luger he got from a German soldier, but it wasn’t something he flashed around.”

After Dino had watched “Saving Private Ryan” with Tom Hanks, he immediately called his father for his reaction, who said it “extremely realistic.”

Dino said the movie gave him a deeper sense of appreciation for what his father and other veterans must have experienced.

He said his father always kept in touch with his Army buddies, all of whom have sadly passed on.

Dino said his father fought for this country just as his grandfather had, a conviction that made a strong impression on Dino and his brother.

“That meant a lot,” Dino said.

Dino’s father came to the United States in 1933 with his mother and sister as an American citizen at age 10. He entered the Pittsburgh Public School system a couple of grades below where he had been in Italy since he did not know the English language. He quickly learned it, however, and caught up, joining his group/class by his senior year when he was the president of his class at Westinghouse High School.

Ernie’s father Benjamin was an outspoken critic of the fascist regime in Italy prior to World War I and had angered local government officials. Benjamin was roughed up, and in order to avoid further harassment by the government, Ernie’s father sent him to live temporarily with relatives in Cleveland. When the U.S. entered the war, Ernie’s father enlisted and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, repairing airplane wings which were made of nylon. After the war, Benjamin was made a U.S. citizen by Act of Congress and moved to Pittsburgh.

As an American citizen he made frequent trips back to Italy where he was married and fathered two children. His wife, Nicolena, had no desire to move to the United States, so they were separated for nearly 10 years. Benjamin made trips back and forth until she finally relented in 1933.

Dino has a grateful heart today, not just for his father and grandfather’s service, but for all veterans.

“We should thank each and every one of them.”