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Tribute to Dad
2 December 2005 | Duquesne, PA
Eulogy for John A. Alzo, Jr. Written December 2, 2005
by Lisa A. Alzo
Thank you for being here today to celebrate the life of John Alzo.
John was a wonderful son, husband, and father; a kind and caring brother and uncle, and a loyal friend and neighbor. He was a skilled carpenter and a fantastic basketball player. John served his country in the Navy during Word War II, and more importantly, he served God by his kindness to others whenever and however they needed him.
John was a man with simple tastes. A bowl of homemade chicken soup would satisfy him, as well as potato pancakes with buttermilk, and any other Slovak food my mother prepared for him. He would also enjoy a “shot and a beer” at the Slovak Club or Union Grill after a long day on the job at the Union Railroad.
John loved to laugh, enjoyed watching sports, reading the newspaper, and having fun at family gatherings and basketball tournaments. You are here today because John touched your life in some way, and I would like to briefly share with you a few words about how my father shaped, influenced and inspired my life.
Dad worked as a carpenter on the Union Railroad. Every weekday morning he rose at dawn to put in eight hours of hard labor. Although his job was not glamorous, he earned a decent salary and took pride in the fact that he worked hard for an honest living. It also gave him great satisfaction to know that he helped to construct many of the buildings and bridges in the area. Dad's appearance at the end of each day showed how dedicated he was to earning the money necessary to look after his family.
For the last 13 years I served as the primary caregiver for my father. I took on this role after my father suffered a stroke in 1992 from which he made a near full recovery except for impairment to the peripheral vision in his left eye. Two years later, my father was diagnosed with cancer which required extensive regimens of chemotherapy and radiation. I would drive him to and from his appointments and there were times when I wondered if he would make it until the next day. But he did. He survived 11 years in complete remission. Then, in 2001 circulatory problems nearly caused the amputation of his right foot, but he survived that too. The Lord had other plans for him and granted him more time. Still, the arms which used to powerfully wield a hammer or saw became thin and fragile like a delicate piece of glass. The fingers which could maneuver any tool so effortlessly became bent from the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. The muscular legs that carried him up and down the basketball court for over 20 years, were reduced to slow and deliberate movements with the aid of a walker. Over the years, I watched him overcome these debilities - and others - with grace, dignity, a sense of humor and a strong, sound mind.
Not long before Dad was hospitalized, we shared a special moment one night that upon reflection I think was Dad’s way of letting me know that he would soon be leaving this earth. He remarked how the Lord had been good to him his whole life, but then the illnesses knocked him down, and he was no longer able to do the things he used to do. Dad said that his only regret was that he wasn’t able to do the “Lord’s work” in the ways he desired. But the truth is, my father was a steadfast and faithful servant to the Lord. Right up until his last days he was still showing love and kindness to those who cared for him—thanking his nurses and me for helping him. He kept smiling even though his strength was weakening. I believe it was fitting that he died on a Sunday–the Lord’s day–and also on the first Sunday of Advent, when the scriptures tell us we all need to be “alert and watchful for the Lord.” My father did not once indicate to me that he was afraid of dying. His faith was a great source of inner strength and comfort.
I know that my father was an exceptionally strong person both physically and emotionally because of how he dealt with all of the circumstances life handed him. Today, I want to express gratitude to God for my father. I am grateful for so many things—for the stable and loving home he and my mother provided for me growing up, for teaching me right from wrong by example. I want to thank my father:
For tucking me in at night.
For riding the roller coasters and Ferris wheel with me when I was a child.
For serving as arbitrator during my teenage years when my mom and I did not agree.
For driving 30 minutes each way every Tuesday to pick me up after my classes during my graduate school years.
For lending his shoulder to cry on during the most difficult moments in my life.
I want to express thanks for these and so many other things that made my father “my dad.”
My cousin, Cathy, recently said the following about my father:
“If all the people in the world could have someone like him in their lives, the world would be a much better place and there would be peace through out.”
I am sure those of you who are here today will agree. And to Dad, who now knows what it is like to be free from worldly cares, pain and suffering, and to experience the joy and reward of being the faithful servant to the Lord, I say,
God bless you always.
Although we – who are gathered here today – are all sad to let you go, we’re happy in the knowledge that you are with loved ones in the company of our Lord.
Dad's Navy Diary
1943-1946 | Pacific Theatre
While cleaning out one of dad’s closets, I found a small brown, unmarked notebook. Out of curiosity I flipped through it, and to my surprise, discovered it was a diary of sorts—notes that my father kept during his service in the United States Navy during World War II. It really wasn’t a diary, rather more like a log of the events from the time he entered the service (he was drafted two months after his high school graduation in 1943) until his final notation on August 14, 1945.
My father was not much of a writer (so I did not inherit my love for writing from him I am afraid) so it was a pleasant surprise indeed to find this little gem. A couple of interesting entries included:
“Entered the service on 16th of August 1943. Boot training at Great Lakes”
“Boarded U.S.S. Tablerock on 15th of December”
“Dec. 25th – First Christmas away from home.”
“December 27 picked up invasion barges in Wilmington, CA.”
“Dec. 28 – Left Wilmington for Pearl Harbor at 5:00 p.m.”
“Dec. 29 – 1st verge of seasickness.
“June 11 – Arrived in Panama 10:00 p.m. Eleven hrs. to get thru locks.”
“June 12 – Met Whitey Petrisko” (his best friend from home who was in the Army)
“Ships position at time of surrender: August 14, 1945. Time 12:31 10º N by 164º W.”
While it is a pretty cut and dry account of his time serving his country, it is still a written testimony of his experiences as part of “The Greatest Generation” and a piece of my father that I can always keep with me now that he is gone—something to give me greater insight into his life as a young man.
In addition to this journal/diary, I have a photo album with many snapshots of my father during his time in the U.S. Navy (some of them I am sharing here), as well as an address book listing the names of some of his fellow servicemen. These items will be invaluable to me as I document the story of my father’s life.
God bless you, Dad (and all those of your generation) for your brave and dedicated service to our country.
It is easy to think of our parents or grandparents as we know them best – in their adult years, but I am always thrilled to see photographs of any of my relatives or ancestors when they were young. It brings a whole new perspective—showing that these folks are more than just names in a pedigree or ancestral chart.
In all the years I spent with my father I never knew that he kept this journal. I can use this new “genealogical gem” as background material for telling my father’s story, and because of this I know the little brown book is a real treasure.
1940s, 1950s | Pittsburgh, PA
Johnny Alzo first touched a “real” basketball when he was around 12-years old. His older sisters gave him the .75 cents to get a membership to the Carnegie Library in Duquesne, where all of the boys and young men went to “play ball.” He first played the game as a young boy with a make-shift backboard and a small rubber ball. Dad and his friends would fasten a galvanized water bucket with a hole in the bottom to a telegraph pole on his street and shoot the rubber ball through it. They didn’t go to the local sporting goods store to buy a basketball. Instead, they scoured the banks of the local river after a storm for old balls that would wash up, or sell scrap metal to buy a ball at the local five and dime store. But once he got that real ball in his hands there was no stopping he. Johnny went on to be a standout on the Duquesne High School basketball team, and played semi-professional ball until the age of 37, setting several scoring records along the way.
My dad was an expert at the two-handed "set shot."
In the 40s and 50s when he played basketball, the focus was not so much on the height of a player or his ability to touch the rim, or dunk the basketball, but more focused on the skill of shooting the ball. It was finesse and precision. By all accounts, Dad was a pretty sharp shooter. He was often either "the" or one of the high scorers for the teams he played on.
I sure wish I could have seen dad shoot one of those great set-shots!