Faith, courage, service true

Mike Semko became the man of his family when his father died following a house fire in 1930.

He was 10-years old.

For the rest of his life, “Uncle Mikie” remained the go-to guy for his family, his parish and his country.

He enlisted in the Navy in August of 1942, but never spoke about his time in the service. In fact, had his sisters Rosie, Nellie and Julie (my grandma) not been hanging wallpaper and listening to the radio on Nov. 12 of that same year, they might never have known that his ship, the USS Rutledge, had been torpedoed and sunk off the coast of North Africa.

Fortunately, Mike had been on shore unloading cargo, but the noise from the explosion damaged his ear drums and he had hearing problems for the rest of his life.

Still, he continued to serve.

“They sent him home with the clothes on his back,” said my Aunt Martha, my dad’s sister and purveyor of these wonderful family stories. “What fascinates me about Uncle Mike is that his first ship was torpedoed during the battle of North Africa 1942. His second ship was a destroyer fighting at Omaha Beach on D Day. Then he was involved in battles in the Mediterranean, in the South of France and Italy. But we never knew any of these stories. He was discharged, went to work in the mines, married Aunt Ann and seemed like just an ordinary guy.”

So low key was Uncle Mike, that he sent his sister (my grandma) a letter at the end of June in 1944.

“I’ve been kind of busy” he wrote just after the D-Day invasion. “But I really appreciate your letters and I’ll try to write more often.”

Honorably discharged on Dec. 3 1945, Uncle Mike returned to Colver, Pennsylvania where he became everyone’s favorite uncle. He taught his nephews, including my dad, how to hunt and fish, went to church every Sunday and spent as much time as he could with his beloved wife Ann.

“He was my favorite uncle,” Aunt Martha said. “He was a really good guy. He didn’t smoke or drink and he didn’t chew snuff. He chewed gum.”

When his brother in-law was killed in the mines, he and Aunt Ann took her sister Emma’s two children under their wing. They paid college tuition, sewed prom dresses and took care of both kids, Johnnie and Kathleen, for as long as they needed it.

As we celebrate this Memorial Weekend, we remember the veterans who gave their lives in service of their country.

But, I’d also like to salute my great Uncle Mike, a Navy veteran, a coal miner, a family man and a really nice guy.

 

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This is Uncle Mike and his niece, my Aunt Martha, in Colver, Pennsylvania around 1944. His first ship, the Rutledge, was sunk by a German U-boat that had slipped past the escort screen and sunk a total of three transports. He was off shore unloading cargo and survived. His second ship, the Augusta, sailed on June 5 and on D-Day took part in the landing at Omaha Beach where she fired on German aircraft until June 15 where she returned to Plymouth England. Soon the Rutledge was supporting operation Dragoon the invasion of the South of France. By the end of August ,Toulane and Marseilles had surrendered. The Rutledge transported troops to Italy and then sailed back to the US.
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Uncle Mike, a proud member of the U.S. Navy, was honored in the Central Cambria County High School 1945 Yearbook, along with several other classmates who served. The inscription read “We’re proud of the young men and women listed on our honor roll. Now they are our defenders and will continue to be the ardent supporters of a democratic society.” By the end of the war, 800 graduates of that unassuming high school had served in the military.

 

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