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Flea market find returned to family of McKees Rocks World War II casualty

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

PHOTOS BY SONJA REIS; Julina Railing, 10, holds the flag at a rededication ceremony held May 27 in Lisbon, Ohio.

Christine (Wargo) Miller, Nick Wargo, Mike Wargo and Michele Wargo Motavalli during the May 27 Purple Heart rededication ceremony in Lisbon, Ohio.

By Sonja Reis

Retired Army Sgt. Nate Railing was wandering through the sales booths at Rogers Community Auction and Flea Market in Ohio. when a purple ribbon caught his eye on May 12.

He reached for the box and opened it to find a Purple Heart with ribbon still nestled inside. And with that, Railing was handing over $10 to the seller and thinking about how to get the award to the family of the item’s former owner.

The Purple Heart – a United States military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed as the result of enemy action – was engraved with the name Nicholas P. Wargo. From there, Railing did some research, took to social media for help and was soon in contact with Wargo’s nieces and nephews who are now scattered across the United States.

A rededication ceremony was quickly planned to be held in the town square of the Village of Lisbon, Ohio on the day before Memorial Day, May 27.

Four of Wargo’s nieces and nephews made the trek in order to be reunited with “Uncle Nick’s” missing military award.

“We’re overjoyed to hear Uncle Nick’s Purple Heart is coming home,” said Nephew Nick Wargo, a 1987 graduate of Sto-Rox, who now lives in Grove City.

The award for paying the ultimate price while serving his nation had been “lost in the handling

of [a sister’s] estate,” he said.

He said his father and “Uncle Nick’s” brother Stephen Wargo "is well known in the area" and was a principal during the 1980s and 90s at Sto-Rox. After retiring from the school, he came back to the district as a security guard. Other siblings included Ann, Helen, Catherine, John, Charles, and Mike Wargo. Their parents were Metro and Pauline Wargo.

Nicholas “Nicky” Wargo was an amateur boxer from the McKees Rocks Bottoms neighborhood when he enlisted to serve in World War II. According to a June 23, 1971 article written by Joe Lubas in the McKees Rocks Gazette, Nicky Wargo was one of five boys in the Carpatho-Russian family and had a “great, bright and smiling personality.”

According to the article, he picked up his interest in boxing as a child by watching his elder brother Johnny in the ring and soon followed in his footsteps. By the age of 18, Nicky Wargo had been boxing for two years and as a featherweight won the Diamond Belt Novice Title in 1939. Nicky went on to win a variety of titles including the Allegheny Mountain Association A.A.U. Junior boxing titles in 1940, 1942, 1943, and 1944.

In his four years of amateur boxing, he had 162 fights, of which he lost 21. He won 38 fights by knockout, including his last one in the United States.

Lisbon, Ohio resident and Retired Army Sgt. Nate Railing talks about why he felt it was important to reunite the Purple Heart with the Wargo family.

While he was home on a furlough in March of 1944, he won the A.M.A.147-pound championship at the Boys’ Club of Pittsburgh. After having served one year in the Army, Nicky Wargo was accepted into the Air Cadet Corps, but due to a change in rules had been retained in the infantry. He arrived in England shortly after D-Day (June 6, 1944) and the last letter his parents received from him was dated Nov. 6. He was wounded two days later.

Nephew Nick Wargo said the family received notice on Thanksgiving 1944 that Nicky had succumbed to his injuries and died in France. A military funeral procession held in McKees Rocks was led by Val Szal with fellow boxers and troops as pallbearers. The funeral service was performed at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church and the burial was at St. Mark’s Cemetery in Kennedy.

While Nicky’s family no longer resides in McKees Rocks, the children of his brothers and sisters still consider it home and tell fond tales about their times growing up in The Bottoms and adventures at the Boys Club on Munson Avenue.

Niece Michele Wargo Motavalli of Cleveland works for the Veteran’s Authority. She said the cousins and their children make regular group pilgrimages to the neighborhood, picnic at Kennywood Park and still consider Holy Ghost to be their church.

While Michele and Nick joined their cousins Christine (Wargo) Miller of Hermitage, Pennsylvania and Mike Wargo of Buffalo, New York at the rededication ceremony in Ohio, Uncle Nick’s Purple Heart is still not home.

The family has decided the military decoration should be passed to Air Force Lt. Col. George Wargo, who has piloted F-15 fighters all of his career. He currently lives in Virginia and was out of the country at the time of the May 27 rededication.

The plan is to gather for National Purple Heart Day, Aug. 7 to pass the award along to George, Motavalli said.

“We’re very honored, we’re privileged,” said Motavalli, of the return of her uncle’s Purple Heart to the family.



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