This is a Veterans Day story about the USS Pittsburgh. There have been four of them, and one is still in service, but our focus today is on the one that sailed in the 1940s and ’50s.
Moreover, this is about a sailor, Richard Pillart. He resides in Florida, but he’s from Polish Hill. And he calls himself “a real Pittsburgh nut. My sister still lives in the house I lived in as a child.”
As much as he loves Pittsburgh, he has an equal interest in USS Pittsburgh history. He would. He served on it.
In 1951, Mr. Pillart quit high school and joined the Navy.
“Just like after 9/11, there was a lot of patriotism then,” he said recently. “I wanted to go in and save the world.”
Because he was underage, he convinced his mother to sign for him on his service papers. He went from Pittsburgh to bootcamp, then on to electrician mate’s school.
When he finished, the Navy let him pick his next station. He knew he wanted to be in the Pacific. He examined the list of vessels in operation there.
“I saw the USS Pittsburgh and said, ‘My goodness, I want that ship.’”
He was aboard from 1952 to 1954, traveling the world and building lasting bonds.
That is, more or less, how he came to us. For the past 38 years, Mr. Pillart and his surviving shipmates have had a reunion in various cities nationwide. They exchanged memories, produced commemorative coins and, at a 1997 reunion in Greentree, donated a model of the ship to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.
In September 2014, the group held its final reunion in Washington D.C., after which he sent the Post-Gazette a Facebook message: “A good time was had by all albeit a bit sad since it was our last reunion after 38 years.”
Many sailors from World War II and the Korean War have “some kind of ailment,” he said, “and they’re all going. We had a memorial service for eight of our shipmates who passed away this year.”
Mr. Pillart made sure to mention shipmate Bob McKnight, a Connellsville native who attended — yes — each of the 38 reunions.