—Letters from the Frontline—Gazette provided GIs with hometown connection during World War II
Updated: Jun 4, 2021
Generations later, featured soldiers still
have descendants living in area
Charles Sisko and the "Bottoms Boys".
As the conflict ramped up in the latter stages of World War II, towns and cities across America came to be dominated by news of its progress and casualties.
In towns like McKees Rocks and Stowe, hundreds of young men were enlisted to fight overseas, and many never made it home. During those uneasy years, soldiers stayed connected to their hometown through the McKees Rocks Gazette, which began publishing letters from stationed troops in each issue.
In turn, soldiers had the paper mailed to their stations, where they found comfort skimming through banal stirrings in the town and looked out for updates from neighborhood friends deployed elsewhere in Europe and the Pacific.
Sandy Saban and Vicky Batcha of the McKees Rocks Historical Society search through old copies of the Gazette looking for WWII letters.
“There were tons of these letters,” said Sandy Saban, president of the McKees Rocks Historical Society. “Every issue had letters – it was its own section.”
Aside from the letters, war news bled into all pages of the paper, which also ran weekly updates on new enlistment, drafts, promotions and deaths. In 1943, the paper put out an 80-page special paying tribute to the town’s servicemen.
“The Gazette played such an important role… that’s how these guys stayed together during the war,” said Saban.
A child of Carpatho-Rusyn emigrants, Charles Sisko grew up in “the Bottoms” of McKees Rocks and signed up to military service in 1943 aged 18.
Enlisted in the 17th Airborne Division, Sisko was dropped into enemy lines from a glider aircraft in a daring escapade codenamed Operation Varsity. Sisko and the other infantrymen made inroads into Northwestern Germany, eventually capturing the industrial city of Essen, dubbed “the Pittsburgh of the Ruhr.” The mission accomplished its objectives but also claimed the lives of more than a thousand U.S. 17th Airborne and British 6th Airborne infantrymen in the process.
Before his deployment to Germany, Sisko was stationed in England, where he penned a short letter to the Gazette giving news of his whereabouts and asking for updates from his buddies among the “Bottoms Boys.”
“The Gazette is about the only contact I have with my friends who are scattered everywhere and I’m forever looking for someone’s name who may be in this vicinity,” Sisko wrote in a letter published in the paper. “I sure would like to bump into Metro Kadlyak who I’m pretty sure is either in the 82nd or the 101st Airborne outfit.”
Saban said her father never said much about his wartime experience, despite various attempts to get him to open up.
“I think he saw enough where he just didn’t want to talk about it,” she said.
Saban later learned more about her father’s military service through one of his comrades who after Sisko’s death in 1990.
One story Sisko didn’t mind retelling is preserved in a scrap of canvas he brought back with him after his discharge.
It came from the glider that carried him into Germany, and which, according to Saban, he felt he needed a piece of.
“He just cut it out, and took it with him,” she said. “That was such a Bottoms thing to do.”