I’d like to take a few minutes and share something with all of our Pitt friends.
After driving up to Pittsburgh from Maryland to attend the Pitt Media day at the Southside facilities on Tuesday I stayed over in the city for two days to be with a childhood friend of mine whose mother had died over the previous weekend.
I wanted to be there, on call as it were, to help my friend, Howard Scott Jr., and his brother and sisters, all friends of mine also, in any way I could.
The reasons for doing that are many, love and friendship certainly, but mainly because I owe a real life-long debt to their family for helping to take care of me when I was younger and without parents of my own.
So why am I sharing this with all of you? Because their father, Howard Scott Sr., was a true born and bred ”Pitt Man” through and through.
Please allow me to expound on that and explain…
A year ago, while writing for The Pitt Blather, I did an article on Memorial Day titled “On That Day” that detailed the connection between the University of Pittsburgh, its alumni and our Armed Forces.
It started off with this:
As the years’ calendar turns to the end of May and the start of what we all see as the spring and summer season, or as we PITT football fans say “the time when no football things are happening” one date always jumps out at me.
It’s on that day our Memorial Holiday falls. In addition to the store sales, reunions, parties, parades, and picnics Memorial Day also holds a meaning that strikes a deeper and more significant cord in many of us. You all know that I’ve reference my professional life as a military officer before. Because that career and my experiences serving in that capacity filled almost my whole adult life, from age 22 until I retired four years ago, it is the lens in which I see, think and feel almost everything through.
So while woolgathering yesterday to try to figure out the next thing to write about Pitt football it occurred to me that I’ve never done a separate Memorial Day piece and that is because it seems to have nothing to do with PITT football. But after some serious reflection I do believe Memorial Day and the University of Pittsburgh, in all their respective facets, have deep ties and are intertwined both historically and in the present.
I reference that post because it struck me while driving back home to Maryland that the epitome of the connection between Pitt and our Armed Forces was my friend’s father’s story and I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t realize that he was just the subject person I meant when writing that article.
On Wednesday when things were hectic in getting ready for the memorial service and burial I insisted that Howard and I take the evening and have a quiet dinner with two other of our old friends. We went to a restaurant in the Strip District, ate and drank and talked for hours about many things, but mostly about our childhoods together and our parents. I have written on here before that my parents died when I was a young man – my father when I was 13 and then my mother passed when I was 19.
One part of that discussion was that Howard and I talked about our dad’s being at Pitt at the same time.
Mr. Scott and my father had gone to Pitt together and were in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity during their undergraduate years, both went to war and returned later to attend Pitt again while working on graduate degrees; my father’s PhD was in Business Administration and Howard Sr. finished his Law degree. Mr. Scott also played baseball and football for Pitt prior to enlisting into the army in 1942.
Back in the mid-70s when I would go over to the Scott’s family home in Shadyside to visit my friend he sometimes wasn’t there. A few of those times I would go down to their basement where their father had a woodworking shop and talk with him until Howard Jr. came home.
Mr. Scott knew that my father had died when I was 13 so during those visits he’d ask me questions about my life, throw wisdom in and talk with me like I was also an adult. He made sure not to preach to me or to criticize which I greatly appreciated.
It was refreshing to be treated like that and very much needed at that time as I was a rudderless young man who really had some hard choices to make in my life. The ones I had made up to that point were all wrong – I was been kicked out of two high schools and arrested a few times and yet still felt I could make something of myself. The truth is I didn’t feel worthy of any sort of success so I just didn’t put the time or effort into actually achieving it.
But he talked with me and asked those questions in a leading and caring way – and made me look at myself in the harsher light of reality than I had been doing while under the influence of drugs and booze as was my norm back then.
He didn’t judge me on those behaviors, nor did his wife, Tallu, who we would bury later. I was a friend of their sons and daughters and so was treated with respect and kindness they felt I deserved.
So it was at dinner together Wednesday night that I told Howard that during his mother’s memorial service and the grave site ceremony I was going to wear the three highest medals I was award during my military career, and that I was doing it to honor his father’s service in WWII. I knew that Mr. Scott had served back then, as did all of our fathers in some way or another.
What I didn’t know was the extent of his father’s experiences during that time, and that during those talks with him I had been in the presence, many times over, of a genuine American hero… and I don’t ever use that term lightly.
When Howard casually dropped the fact that his dad had won a battlefield commission during the Battle of the Bulge, commanded the immediate ground unit involved in the first liberation of the prisoners of Dachau and won a Silver Star for those actions you can bet I sat up straighter and snapped to attention. To put it simple I was in awe.
The following are some details of those small bits of information my friend dropped on me that evening:
Howard’s 7th Army unit was engaged in intense infantry combat for many months during 1944 and 1945 and faced some of the first jet aircraft attacks in history. He was proud but never boastful to have earned a battlefield commission from the rank of Private to 2nd Lieutenant in combat against German counterattacks in the Moselle River region of France. There he was decorated for bravery and valor.
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge, Scott’s infantry unit fought and captured many German SS and army troops. The unit he personally commanded liberated the notorious Dachau concentration camp from the Nazis, as well as numerous towns in the Alsace region of France. (He returned to these Alsace battlefields one time in the 1990’s, where he was honored as a liberating hero by local French residents and politicians).
Scott eventually rose to the rank of Captain, and coached and played for the occupation Army football and baseball teams.
My friends, I have met and known many military Veterans in my adult life, I am one myself, and have to say from the heart that Howard Scott Sr.’s war record is second to none.
An in-theater, in-action battlefield Officer’s commission from the lowly rank of Private to 2nd Lieutenant is almost unheard of. If it happened at all it was normally awarded to soldiers from the higher and more experienced enlisted ranks such as Sergeant or Staff Sergeant, not from the bottom rung rank of Private.
A battlefield commission is akin to being knighted on the battlefield during the medieval times. The granting of a battlefield commission has its historical predecessor in the medieval practice of the knighting or ennoblement of a plebeian combatant on the battleground for demonstration of heroic qualities in an exceptional degree.
Such as it is that our heroes – our real heroes – don’t talk about what they have done to earn that title. As his children inherited his humble traits they also knew and never bragged about their father’s war record either. In a full 40 years of knowing this family Wednesday night was the first I had head of those sterling accomplishments.
I had many role models in my young life and some of them I wanted to emulate. I joined the Service because an uncle I loved dearly was a retired Navy Commander. Another of my uncles spent two years in a German concentration camp… those two, along with my own father’s wartime experiences, were part of that decision I made when I was 22. That was a hard but necessary decision if I was truly serious about finally growing up living a good and decent life.
But men like Howard Scott Sr., with his quiet and strong demeanor and his willingness to take time to lend a young man his ear, have to be factored in also. I looked up to him in no small measure not only because he lived his life as well as a man could, but fathered two young men who I knew would go on to do good and important things in their lives also. And they sure did, each in their own right.
Mr. Scott’s Pitt education was war interrupted for some years but he came back to his hometown, used the G.I. Bill to earn his Pitt Law Degree and then went on to become a leading citizen in the city we love.
We Pitt fans know other many success stories of Pitt students and players who did their duties in our wars and we’ll see that happen again in the future. The caliber of Pitt men and women on campus today can rise to any occasion that comes their way, I truly believe that.
Thank you for listening. I just wanted to share my story of one man and his family who I all respect and value and in whom all of us Pitt people can be proud.