A NOT SO 'HOLLOW' CHILDHOOD
The Bendzuch Family (1920)
John Bendzuch was born on May 20th, 1920 to Hungarian immigrants Michael and Magdalena Bendzuch. He was one of four children that were raised along the banks of the Youghiogheny River in an area known as Dead Man's Hollow. John's father worked as a laborer for the Union Sewer Pipe Company. When the opportunity surfaced for John's father to move his wife and children closer to his job, he seized it. John was three years old at the time his family moved into a cottage that was owned by the company his father worked for. It was a small three room house that was built on a grassy knoll on the edge of the stream. Like most children who grew up during that era, chores and other responsibilities would often outweigh recreational activities. This was very true for the Bendzuch children. John and his siblings were often seen tending to the family's livestock as well as their vegetable garden and fruit tree orchards. When John was old enough to attend elementary school, he was confronted with a new challenge. It was his walk to and from school. The trek required John to hike from his home in the hollow to the top of Belle Bridge Hill in Lincoln Borough. From there, it was down the opposite side of the ridge to the banks of the Monongahela River. The schoolhouse was a small wooden building which was located along the road leading to the town of Elizabeth. Because the school sat on a slope that overlooked the river, it was very easy for tugboats and coal barges to distract the children. John repeatedly found himself being disciplined for taking more of an interest in what was happening outside rather than what was being taught inside. With all things considered, John was still able to find time to enjoy his childhood. He always found a way to squeeze in a refreshing dip in the creek after a heavy summer rainfall or initiate a good snowball fight during the winter.
IT'S OFF TO WAR!
Boy Scout Camp Flag Dedication (1942)
By the early days of World War II, John had finished school and found employment with U.S. Steel. Shortly after being hired as a Galvanizing assistant, he temporarily withdrew from his duties at the company when he was drafted by the United States Army. In October of 1941, John entered into the service at Fort Meade, Maryland. From there it was on to Camp Wheeler in Macon, Georgia for basic training. Ten weeks later, John was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri before being assigned to Company E 20th Infantry. In November of 1943, he proudly served as a Combat Infantryman in the Pacific Theater. Through his service career, John advanced to the rank of Technical Sergeant. He encountered enemy forces on several occasions in New Guinea and Luzon. In 1945, John was wounded during a battle in Luzon. Over the course of a few weeks, the hospitalized soldier returned to the United States and made a full recovery from his injuries. His valiant service to his country would later be acknowledged when he was presented with The Silver Star. This medal is the third highest military decoration awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States. John also received a Purple Heart and The Bronze Star. In November of 1945, with an honorable discharge, John left Camp Atterbury, Indiana and made his way back to Dead Man's Hollow.
40 years with U.S.Steel (1980)
After a small homecoming celebration at the Bendzuch house, John returned to his job with U.S. Steel and began working as a general floor inspector. By this time, all of the Bendzuch children were marrying and starting families of their own. John, on the other hand, was content with staying in Dead Man's Hollow with his mother and father. In the years following the war, the financial status of many families living in the hollow improved dramatically. One by one, the Bendzuch's neighbors began to trade in the hardships that came with living in the secluded hollow for the comfort and convenience of homes in populated areas. Eventually, these conversations would make there way to the Bendzuch's dinner table. After months of debating, John and his mother finally convinced his father to move. In July of 1953, the Bendzuch family became the very last family to leave Dead Man's Hollow. Of course, they didn't move very far. The family settled into a house that overlooked Dead Man's Hollow near the end of Orchard Drive in Liberty Borough. In the years that followed, John was supposedly involved in a contingent relationship with a woman from the area. Nothing ever become of this relationship and the two eventually parted company. Time continued to drift by and eventually brought the passing of John's father in 1968 and his mother in 1970. At the age of 60, John announced his retirement from U.S. Steel. In the days that followed, the company held a small banquet in honor of the employees who were retiring that year. During the luncheon, a photograph was taken of John receiving a service award and being congratulated by Relief General Supervisor of Quality Control, Robert Stokes. The photograph would later be featured in a local publication. It wasn't long before John began to devote all of his time to his favorite pastimes. Friends and neighbors were constantly seeing his Ford Thunderbird passing by with his 12 foot aluminum fishing boat in tow. Gardening had become one of John's passions as well. He was especially proud of the grape arbor that stood near the edge of the hollow.
THOSE FOND MEMORIES
The Youghiogheny Reservoir (1971)
Despite all of the stories that he could have told about the war and his days with U.S. Steel, John always seemed to prefer reminiscing about his youth in Dead Man's Hollow. He never missed an opportunity to share a few of his memories with anyone who was willing to listen. His excitement really peaked when he was interviewed by a local writer who was collecting information for a book on the history of Dead Man's Hollow. Not long after the book's release, John was diagnosed with cancer. As his physical strength diminished, the trails that John frequently walked on became too difficult for him to traverse. His visits to Dead Man's Hollow had to cease. Eventually, his condition forced him into the Veteran's Hospital. Even in the last few days of his life, John continued to speak of Dead Man's Hollow. He even found the energy to complain about the hospital's drinking water. He stated that it was "no damn good" and then requested some "good water" from one of the the natural springs in the hollow. On the morning of June 24th, 2009, with the sun shining and thin clouds roaming across a blue sky, John Bendzuch peacefully departed this world. He was 89 years old.
As a tribute to the late John Bendzuch, the official DEAD MAN'S HOLLOW destination decal was created to celebrate his life and memories of the hollow. The weatherproof vinyl sticker features the ominous silhouette of a tree befitting of Dead Man's Hollow. With a closer look at the tree, one might find John's initials carved into the trunk and quite possibly the very ghost of Dead Man's Hollow itself lurking within its branches.
The DMH destination decal project was launched by John's great-nephew and Lincoln Borough resident, Stephen A. Bosnyak with assistance from the staff at Jamar Park promotions of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All proceeds from sticker sales are being donated to the McKeesport Heritage Center in John's memory. In addition to the tribute, an effort was made to have John inducted into the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh. In early 2010, Bosnyak contacted the National Military Personnel Center and requested copies of John's military record and Silver Star citation. After an eight month wait for a written reply, Bosnyak was disappointed to learn that a fire in 1974 destroyed most of the wing where the center stored the documents from that era. Despite John's record being lost, a representative from the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum stated that the Army Unit's General Order Number would also provide the information needed for induction. The representative also suggested that John's family and friends contact the office of Congressman Mike Doyle to request his help in the matter. During the following week, Bosnyak had multiple phone conversations with various members of the Congressman's staff. Bosnyak was then instructed by Congressional Staffer Alan Smith to send photocopies of John's Enlistment and Discharge Papers to the office for further examination. This information was mailed out the very next day. As 2010 came to a close, John's family and friends believed that it was only a matter of time before the veteran would be acknowledged in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum for his service to his country. Unfortunately, another year would pass without a response from Congressman Mike Dolye's office regarding the status of John Bendzuch's 'lost' Silver Star citation or the General Order Number. Of course, Bosnyak remains optimistic and is determined to find this important information.
- This information was updated in January 2012 -