Go Back
View in Full Screen
News: Pasquale L. Papalia of VFW Post 764 among those inducted into Hall of Valor
03/30/2017 - by By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
During two sweltering days in the jungles of Vietnam in September 1968, Barry D. Gasdek made a life-altering choice — one that could easily have proved fatal. He would forgo medical treatment for his own battle wounds and instead focus on evacuating and getting help for the 160 men under his command.

Lt. Col. Gasdek of the U.S. Army, 21st Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, was a highly decorated soldier and unit commander during the Vietnam War, but his actions on Sept. 22 and 23 of that year were “exceptionally valorous” and earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, according to the narrative accompanying the award.

And on Sunday, Mr. Gasdek, 74, and 12 other soldiers were inducted into the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

The award, established in 1963, honors veterans who go above and beyond the call of duty. The 700 veterans who have been honored so far must meet certain requirements: They must be from Pennsylvania and they must have received the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy or Air Force Cross or an equivalent award.

“Today, we recognize 13 ordinary veterans who did extraordinary things,” said John F. McCabe, president and CEO of Soldiers & Sailors.

Along with the Distinguished Service Cross, Mr. Gasdek was the recipient of the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Soldier’s Medal, five Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, five Meritorious Service Medals, 16 Air Medals, 10 Army Commendation Medals, a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.

Born and raised in Derry, Westmoreland County, Mr. Gasdek is the son of Eleanor and Frank Gasdek. His father was a steelworker and coal miner, but Barry Gasdek wanted something different.

“I figured I would get in my three years [in the Army], then be a teacher and coach,” he said.

But, life had other plans.

While studying for a bachelor’s degree in art education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Gasdek entered into the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

Immediately after earning his degree in 1964, he entered military service. He would go on to earn a master’s degree in counseling and psychology from Georgia State University in 1971, but not before fighting through some of the deadliest battles in Vietnam.

“I could smell the [North Vietnamese army] before I could see them,” he recalled. “Fish and fire — that’s what helped us survive. We only carried ammunition, food and water. By the second or third year in the jungle, we had become part of it.”

Col. Gasdek and his infantry company would spend 25 days at a time in the jungle before getting three days’ rest.

“It was pretty spartan conditions,” he said. “The things that kept you alive were being able to read a map and being able to get a medevac for the wounded.”

And that’s what Col. Gasdek was doing that day in Sept. 1968 when his unit came under intense enemy fire during a combat sweep near Duong Da, according to the military narrative.

He “exposed himself to the hail of bullets to encourage his men, fire his weapon and hurl hand grenades at the aggressors,” the narrative states.

Col. Gasdek found nearby armored personnel carriers and directed them to the battle site. On the way there, he was wounded in the leg from small arms and mortar fire.

“Despite his painful injury, he continued on to his men and organized the evacuation of the wounded,” the narrative said. “Carrying the most seriously injured man on his back, he crawled more than 100 meters through a murderous barrage. …”

The next morning, Col. Gasdek led an attack on the enemy and received a shrapnel wound in his back — one that he still has today. Again, he refused medical treatment to remain with his troops.

Why did he ignore his own well-being to stay with his men? Mr. Gasdek said he knew the only way to evacuate all of the men safely would be if he did it himself.

“Going in, I hoped no one would be killed in action,” he said of his early days in the war. “But that doesn’t happen in war.”

After the war, Mr. Gasdek stayed with the Army, serving 28 years.

“After all the bullet holes in my T-shirt, I figured it couldn’t have gotten any worse,” he said, laughing.

He relocated to Laramie, Wyo., in 1989, where he taught military science at the University of Wyoming until his retirement in 2012.

Now, he spends his days with his companion, Rita Krusemark, and their two dogs, Rocket and Buddy, in a home 7,300 feet above sea level.

Also honored Sunday were other soldiers from Vietnam and World War II, including Air Force Col. Dale L. Eppinger, Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. William W. Fahrenhold, Army 2nd Lt. Vaughn P. Flizanes, Army Air Corps Capt. Arthur E. Halfpapp, Navy motor machinist’s mate David E. McCusker, Army Pfc. John V. McMahon, Army Spc. James R. Patterson, Army Air Corps 1st Lt. John J. Rodgers, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Pasquale L. Papalia (Silver Star), Army Tech Sgt. Rudolph M. Schuller, Marine Corps Cpl. Dale N. Spridik and Army Air Corps Tech Sgt.Joseph J. Walters.

The awards were presented by Judge Michael E. McCarthy of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, a Vietnam War veteran. They will be on display at the memorial hall for the next two years before being archived.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here,” Judge McCarthy said. “This building houses these stories; it’s kind of like a book,” sharing stories from the Civil War to the war on terror.

>

Go Back