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History in the Hills: Veterans and mill workers

Veterans Day is a time to remember and honor all those who have served in our military. Those who have said yes to service and have given of their time and energy to protect our country deserve our heartfelt thanks! Truly it is due to their sacrifices that we have the nation we live in today.

My maternal grandfather, Joseph D. Carpini, served as an M.P. in England, France, Belgium and finally, in April 1945, Germany. My paternal grandfather, Paul M. Zuros, was first sent to the Aleutian Islands to prepare for a possible Japanese invasion of Alaska in the early years of the war. He later was sent to Europe, serving in France, Belgium, Germany and Austria by the end. Both men traveled extensively during the war years, and both gave their early 20s to the Army. It is this sacrifice and those of countless others we often take for granted. On Veterans Day, when I look into the faces of my children, I remember that so many gave so much for this life we live. Thank you somehow falls short.

My grandfathers both came from Weirton and experienced the rise and later boom of the steel industry. So much was built and enlarged at Weirton Steel in anticipation of the Second World War. Expansion and enlargement of the capacities of furnaces and output were the order of the day.

Today, when I witness the dismantlement of the mills and factories of the former Weirton Steel Co., it is with mixed emotions. I know that the era of history that enabled companies like Weirton Steel to boom is over. The time to look to the future is here. It was in that same vein that when the great BOP, or “Mill of the Future,” was built in the mid-1960s, another building, tied with much history and memories, was demolished to make way for the future.

Along Main Street in Weirton, close to the Main Office, a group of warehouses was transformed in the 1940s to produce the 8-inch Howitzer Shell, one of the very few completed products ever made at Weirton Steel during the war. This was an incredible operation from casting the steel for the projectile, to engineering and building the machines to make the shells, to sending the completed shell casings on their way to the front lines. Weirton Steel engineered the total process. The mill workers at that time were local high school students, critical war workers and women. So many people came from the community to work in the mills during the war. Plants like Weirton Steel were doing their part to win the war for the allies.

Surely my grandfathers both encountered steel made from Weirton Steel in the Army overseas. Along with the shells from the plant, steel for tanks, trucks and ships came from Weirton Steel. Products made from brass, copper, silver chloride and magnesium, 30- to 50-caliber ammunition also were made at the mill.

Most importantly, more than 5,000 men from Weirton Steel’s work force went to fight during the war. More than 115 gave the supreme sacrifice to our country.

The days of the booming mill are over. The skies are clear, when they were once full of smoke. While on Veterans Day we honor those who serve, I also want to say thank you in a small way to the mill workers who “fought the battle of production” to supply all the service men and women overseas who fought for our freedoms. They made the supplies and equipment necessary to keep our servicemen safe, and that’s not a small thing.

As we close that chapter in our history, we welcome new opportunities of growth to our region. And, just as the mills filled the land of the Ohio Valley, we hope new things will fill their place, too.

Even as those old behemoths are torn down, the history of what the company did for our families, nation and our veterans will live on in the freedoms we all share. Let us never take for granted the sacrifices of our veterans or those who support them here at home. Thank you is not enough.

(Zuros is the director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben.)

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