Museum hosts mayors, Pearl memories
WEIRTON – The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center combined honoring Pearl Harbor Day with a number of events Saurday.
- Hosted a a live broadcast on WEIR-AM during which several local veterans observed Pearl Harbor Day and shared their memories about being in the military.
- Unveiled an exhibit on Weirton’s mayors, which was attended by Mayor George Kondik and several former mayors.
- Unveiled the “Forged By Steel” welcome sign, originally placed by the Weirton Woman’s Club and now refurbished and on display at the museum.
Weirton was home to two survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack – Clyde DiAngelo and Charlie Badis.
DiAngelo enlisted in the Marines after being laid off at Wheeling Steel, and he arrived in Pearl Harbor only days before the attack and was with the 4th Defense Battalion, which fought back against the surprise attack, putting eight anti-aircraft guns into action within six minutes after the attack started.
The group used small arms fire to bring down three aircraft.
DiAngelo would serve in the South Pacific for the remainder of the war.
Badis, who was an airman, arrested the very first Japanese prisoners of war after the Pearl Harbor attack.
He was walking guard duty after the attack when two Japanese submariners staggered out of the surf. The Japanese Navy had several two-man submarines engaged in the attack, and the two men had abandoned theirs.
“One of them spoke perfect English,” said Duke Horstemeyer, a Korean War veteran who had known Badis. “They later found out that he was from Hawaii, but had Japanese ancestry and had returned to Japan.”
Horstemeyer, a Marine, and Yvonne Tuchalski, Army, were two of several local veterans who shared their military experiences.
Horstemeyer served from 1954 to 1957 and enlisted after being laid off from Wheeling Steel.
“There were four or five of us who were going to sign up, we were all going to go together,” he said. “But I ended up being the only guy who signed up!”
Tuchalski had a similar story – she wanted a career free of layoffs, so joined the Army and served from 1980 until 1986, when she received an honorable discharge because she was several months pregnant with her and her husband’s child.
“My first uniform looked like that,” she said, motioning to a World War II-era airwoman’s uniform. “A skirt and pumps. Later, we had dress slacks.”
Tuchalski’s husband also was a soldier, and their children were born overseas, with her closest call not coming while on duty, but actually while flying back home. After an accident occurred on a military flight, Tuchalski decided she and their children would fly home on a civilian plane. They took Pan Am Flight 104 from Germany – the flight directly before Pan Am Flight 103, which was exploded by terrorists in December 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing the entire crew and all passengers and 11 people on the ground.
The veterans attending the event were asked to register for the Heroes Project of the Northern Panhandle, a joint project between the Weirton Museum, Brooke County Museum and West Liberty University conceived by local historian Ruby Greathouse.
The project seeks to record veterans telling their stories in their own words. Those interested in participating in the project as either a subject or volunteer can find a registration form at www.weirtonmuseum.com.
Museum President Dennis Jones called the addition of the exhibit on the mayors “long overdue,” adding it would be expanded with campaign materials and memorabilia of each mayor’s term of office. Museum volunteers also hope to add materials on council members and other civil servants.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
Kondik acted as master of ceremonies, introducing each of the former mayors who were in attendance – Don Mentzer, 1979-1987; Ed Bowman, 1987-1995; Dean Harris, 1995-2003; and Bill Miller, 2003-2007.
Mentzer spoke about building the city garage in 1983 using revenue sharing.
“It was built, and we didn’t owe anything on it,” he said. “Not a penny of taxes was put into that garage.”
He also spoke about challenges he faced during his term, including several floods and flying to New York to sign $50 million worth of bonds when Weirton Steel Co. went to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
Bowman spoke about his pride in being elected mayor, saying it was even greater than that of being elected to the state senate.
“The people who elected me to that office were the people who knew me best, the ones who grew up with me in the community,” he said.
Bowman added the greatest challenge of his term was finding room for businesses to expand. He noted politicians don’t create jobs, but make job creation easier by ensuring the necessary infrastructure is in place.
Samuel Kusic was mayor from 1955 to 1959, and his son, Sam Kusic, spoke briefly about his father’s term.
“I know that my father loved Weirton,” he said, adding his father had instilled in him a respect and readiness for public service.
When the elder Kusic was elected the city’s second mayor, he said he “wasn’t worth more than (first Mayor) Thomas Millsop and I’ll take this job for two-bits.”
Harris spoke about the sense of community between residents and about the transition from a “company town” to one that “stood on our own two feet.”
“It is a very difficult process,” he said.
One of the biggest controversies of his term was moving the fire department to Weirton Heights, because of the difficulty reaching schools, businesses and the hospital from the downtown station through traffic.
Miller noted there were many difficulties during his term, including Hurricanes Frances and Ivan and the Weirton Steel Co. bankruptcy.
“We showed the true grit of the city,” he said. “We’ve always been survivors, and we’ll always will be survivors.”
He also spoke about the unity of the city’s mayors, with each picking up on and building on the work those before him had done with an eye to the long game.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it was worth it,” he said.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at email@example.com.)