Me and Mr. P
Robert Percich is a 93-year-old retired steel worker, farmer, and Navy Veteran from WWII. He unknowingly motivated me to write his story while delivering Meals on Wheels to him last winter. One morning back in February 2015 it had been snowing like crazy and there must have been over 6 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I just happened to be delivering Robert’s meal and pulled into his driveway to find him with his snow shovel in hand. I thought to myself, “This is one tough man! He’s in his 90’s, living on a 72-acre farm by himself, and he’s outside shoveling snow.” As I was driving to the next delivery I couldn’t help but wonder about his story. I felt compelled to ask him if I could take some pictures and talk with him about his life. It wasn’t until April, when we were finally able to sit and reminisce.
In 1922 Robert was born in his parent’s home in Cortland, Ohio. Life wasn’t easy for him and his 5 siblings back then. His father was an Italian Immigrant who came to the United States after two brothers were killed in the Italio-Ethiopian War. Work was hard to come by during the depression and the family moved a few times before settling down in Warren, Ohio.
Robert completed his preliminary education and graduated with a HS diploma in January of 1941. After spending 2 years working for Copperweld Steel, he volunteered to go to war, and since he was not called to duty, his boss at Copperweld did not want to let him go. Companies had the right to hold their men to prevent them from leaving the workforce. Robert said that he told his boss, “Oh, just try and stop me!” And he signed on with the United States Navy. You see, his older brother was drafted and he wanted to go to fight with him.
Robert spoke of the war as many veterans who have seen combat do, a bit conservatively with the projection of a heavy heart. I could tell that to this day there is sadness behind those sparkling eyes. Initially he was on an aircraft carrier, which made its way to Italy. After arriving there, the troops were put on a train, which broke down every 15-25 miles, “That was a hell of a damn ride!” It went north to where the troops were stationed. There was gunfire and explosions off in the distance and he asked another soldier who had been there for a time, “How many people were dyin’?” The soldier said, “Tomorrow I will take you for a walk.” They did go for that walk, “There was a huge pile of bones and I saw what they were killin’. I will never forget that!”
It was Robert’s job in the Navy to stand watch, and one evening he heard some shouting. He got permission from his officer to check out what the commotion was all about. So, he walked down the pier and found some guys trying to rescue a man who was near drowning. This man was in an area of water surrounded by cement. Robert ran back to the ship and got a rope, which he used to rescue the drowning man. Later on that week, another seaman received recognition for saving the life of the stranger and they were very proud of that guy. He said he didn’t speak up, just let it go. He never knew who the drowning man was, where he came from, or how he ended up in the water.
After returning to the U.S. from his duty overseas, the Navy sent him out to Washington State (WA) for reassignment. Robert was thinking that he might finally get to see his brother who he had not seen for over 4 years. After all, that was the entire reason he enlisted, so he could fight with him, and help to keep him safe. He didn’t know whether he was alive, injured, or dead, and the last he had heard, was that his brother was stationed in WA, running barbed wire fence up the west coast. He did not meet up with him, instead the Navy sent him south into California to board another ship.
One morning, on the journey to California, he was in Oregon and the train stopped. There was a lot of noise and commotion. So, Robert opened the window and said, “What’s all this noise about?” A shout came from the crowd, “The war has ended!” At that moment, all he wanted to do was get back home, “I went to the Red Cross to give me money to come home to see my brother. “ They said, “We’ll give you the money, but you have to pay it back.” ”Oh man! I used to donate money to them, so I told them to take it and shove it up their KUDOTS!!! “
After returning home, the first order of business for Robert was to find his brother Vincent. Vincent and Robert never did meet up while serving in WWII. It wasn’t until Robert made it safely back home that they were finally reunited. During the war, Vincent became ill with “some disease that turned his skin yellow.” But, he was alive!
Robert went back to work for Copperweld as a crane operator. Then he met his wife of 66 years Sara Jean. She was 18 and he 26. He met her at a roller rink in Warren, Ohio. He said, “I carried my skates with me everywhere I went.” Robert and Sara Jean had a way of doing things, “Me and my old lady got along good! She took care of the stuff to do in the house and I took care of the farm outside. Yeah, that wife of mine was smart and had a heart of gold. She’d give it away if they needed it!” He went on to say, “I was just getting to know her, then she up and died on me. When I married her, she couldn’t even boil water. My mother would tell h er how, then my aunt, then I had another aunt in West Virginia who would tell her how. She ended up real good, baked bread and everything else. The kids getting off of the school bus would know there was a bun waiting for them!” Robert and Sara Jean raised 5 children together, three boys and two girls. His youngest son Richard still lives nearby and helps him out around the farm.
Copperweld held onto him for 30 years until he retired. After retirement, Robert worked on his farm and constructed many additions with his sons. When Robert and Sara Jean bought the place, he stated that the house should not have been called a farmhouse; “It was real small and needed a lot of work.”
He a nd his sons added on the kitchen, family room, front porch, and the back steps to the basement. They also added a garage attached to the barn and the one to the house. When his kids were young, they had livestock; chickens, pigs, and two horses. “I was a pretty good horse rider years ago!”
Today Robert keeps active by taking care of his property. He cuts wood for the furnace, mows the lawn, and has a nice sized garden.
One of the reasons I love being a nurse is because I get to know a little piece of each patient’s story, stories of their families, where they live, and what they do for a living. I find the diversity in human ideas fascinating. The day I met Robert, I had to know his story, and I’m so grateful that he shared it with me.
Gabriel R Percich(non-registered)
Great story about my Grandpa very well written. Just wish I could have seen him more.
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