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World War II veteran patriotic to the core

Donald Walko served in World War II, received his high school diploma at the age of 88 and participated in more than 1,000 military funerals as a member of the South Greensburg American Legion Honor Guard.

“He was generous, open-minded and enjoyable to be around,” said his son, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donald Walko Jr.

Donald R. Walko of Ohio Township, formerly of Greensburg, died Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Vincentian Home in McCandless. He was 91.

Mr. Walko was born June 9, 1926, to the late Joseph and Anna (Diriske) Walko. He attended what was then Youngwood High School, but left before graduation to serve in the Navy during World War II.

Mr. Walko was stationed on Fishers Island near Connecticut, where he patrolled the East Coast, keeping watch for enemies looking to attack America.

“There was a lot of concern on the Eastern seaboard during the war,” his son said. “They had nets in New York Harbor to prevent submarines from coming in.”

Today, his grandson attends the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., just a half-day ride from Fishers Island. He was discharged in July 1946.

After returning home, Mr. Walko met and married his wife Eleanor Michaelena (Damico) Walko.

Mr. Walko’s son said he has fond memories of the family’s camping trips to Shawnee State Park in Schellsburg.

“That was sort of our vacation destination,” he said.

Walko Jr. also recalls his father instilling both patriotism and respect for all people in his children.

“I was in second grade when Martin Luther King Jr. gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” he said. “I remember my dad’s exact words: ‘He is a great man, and he stands for a great cause.’”

Mr. Walko spent nearly four decades working as a machinist and blacksmith with ITE Greensburg and was an international delegate and secretary for the United Electrical Workers Local 625.

“He was really knowledgeable about political issues,” his son said. “As I began moving toward a political career, we’d talk on a daily basis. He would always remind me to wear my flag pin, and he always emphasized what it meant: civil rights, labor rights, health care, the American promise and opportunity for everyone.”

Though he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, Mr. Walko was still able to talk with family and friends up until two weeks before he died, Walko Jr. said.

“My son came to visit in his Merchant Marine uniform,” he said. “Dad saw him and said, ‘You look good.’ That was probably the last lucid thing he said.”

At Vincentian Home, Walko Jr. said a parade of nurses, aides and administrators came by to say goodbye to his father.

“They called him everybody’s grandpap,” Walko Jr. said. “It was very moving.”

Mr. Walko is survived by a daughter, Donna Marie Hay of Ligonier; and a son, the Honorable Judge Donald R. Walko Jr., of Ohio Township; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday and from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday in Leo M. Bacha Funeral Home, 516 Stanton St., Greensburg.

An 11 a.m. funeral Mass will follow 10:30 a.m. prayers in St. Bruno Roman Catholic Church, 1715 Poplar St., South Greensburg. Interment will be in Greensburg Catholic Cemetery with full military honors by the South Greensburg American Legion.

Memorial contributions can be made to Vincentian Home, ATTN: Sister Karen, 111 Perrymont Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.


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