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Friday, October 10, 2014

Peter Tudish

Kevin Tudish’s father Pete was born on June 27, 1921 in Grays Landing, a tiny village in coal mining country in southwestern Pennsylvania. Later he made a home for his wife Anne and family in nearby Greensboro. He'd built the house himself, with his own hands.

Pete shuffled off this mortal coil on Sunday September 28th, in his sleep, at the incredible, amazing age of 93.

Back in April, I posted a few snippets from Kevin's book health happiness love longevity peace prosperity and safety. In the morsel reprinted below, South Pacific (not the musical), Kevin spoke of his father's temperament, particularly his reminisces of life during wartime — WWII.

Pete Tudish was a flight engineer with the air force and took part in the battles of Guadalcanal and Bougainville — crazy hairy times that Pete survived and learned from. He passed those lessons on to Kevin who, in turn, is passing them on to his daughter, Pete’s granddaughter, Gia.
My dad made it sound like some kind of lark in the tropics. Despite the shelling and sniper fire, Japanese soldiers sneaking out of the jungle at night to toss grenades into the tents. Despite the canon and machine-gun fire from his own P-39s turning the Japanese into a blizzard of body parts on the beach.

“We took a Dutch freighter from Australia to Tongatabu. The captain was Dutch; Javanese crew. Twenty-six P-40s in crates. Fifty-five-gallon drums of high-octane fuel. We would’ve been one big fireball. All they had to eat was mutton. Hanging up on deck, collecting maggots. Scrape the maggots off, cut off a piece for dinner. I couldn’t eat it. I lived on bread for two weeks. When we got to Tongatabu, the old man had a pallet of Bulimba Red Top waiting for us. He had it under guard, though, until we assembled the planes. The moment we were finished… warm, but boy did it taste good. Then somebody figured out if you dripped the high-octane fuel on the bottles, it would evaporate so fast it cooled off the beer.”

On Tongatabu, the mechanics figured since they put the planes together, and kept them together, they were entitled to a little fun.

“The P-40s were heavy, and you had to get up a lot of speed to get the tail up before takeoff. We didn’t get them off the ground, but we had a little contest to see who could get the tail up. Well, one of the guys did, but then tipped it over and tore the nose off. The old man wasn’t too happy about that.”

Tongatabu to New Caledonia, then sometime in late October, 1942, onto a C-47 for Guadalcanal. Twenty-one years old, sent ahead to set up for the 68th Fighter Squadron.

“We stayed about ten feet above the water so the Japanese planes couldn’t see us. We landed, they threw our gear out, and the guys from the 67th climbed on board and took off.”

Twenty-one and setting up for what would be some of the worst fighting in the Pacific, some of the most gruesome moments in American history.

“They gave us Marine uniforms. Pants with no back pockets. We cut ‘em off and made shorts. Shorts and a pair of boots. And a 45, two extra clips. Mostly the Marines took care of any Japs that came into camp, but you had to be armed. And it was so hot. The first few nights, we rolled up the sides of the tents to let some air in. Some Jap snuck in, tossed a grenade into one of the tents. That happened a couple of times. We rolled the sides back down, and took turns standing guard. Didn’t happen after that. We had trenches right outside. The shelling would start and you’d have to be out of your bunk and into the trench before you had a chance to wake up.”

In a military family, war is never an abstract. You live around the armament, climb in and out of it on field trips. Everything your dad does every day is in preparation for it. Almost everyone has seen combat. But my dad never made it sinister. It was always a possibility, even a likelihood, but it was just something we were ready for, not something that kept us up at night or contaminated our lives.
He knew how awful it was, how it would never be beyond the periphery of our lives, so he made it an entertainment.

“One of the cooks used to make wine out of grape jelly. Or you could cut a hole in a coconut, pour in some sugar and plug it up for a week to make some hooch.”

“They used to shoot at us from the jungle. One day, we were taking sniper fire, so we got down behind the wheel of a P-39. This Marine comes strolling down the beach. He’s got a Browning Automatic, and ammo strapped all over him. All I could think was, Man, if they hit him, we’re all going up. ‘Jump out and draw some fire,’ he says, ‘so I can see where it’s coming from.’ We drew a few shots from the jungle and he let go with that Browning.”

It was all candid information about life in a war zone, but he talked about it the same way he talked about being able to ice skate on Dunkard Creek all the way from Davistown out to Poland Mines, where the creek empties into the Monongahela; or how he talked his way into every funeral in town so he’d have a chance to ride in a car. There was an affection for his experience, for learning to improvise and survive.

I wanted to give my own kid that sense that there’re catastrophic forces at work, things that can annihilate you in an instant, but you don’t have to live in fear of them. You have to be aware, be willing to learn and improvise, understand what’s going on and what your options are. You can’t prevail if you’re stupid about it, but you sure increase your odds if you pay attention.
Pete had a long rich life. He was active practically to the very end. Kevin wrote:
We did get in our last round of golf together last year after his 92nd birthday. I had never beaten him, and in that last round, I think we tied (not a ringing endorsement of either of our games :).
I never knew Pete Tudish — hells, I'm only acquainted with Kevin because I happily happened on his bookbut I feel as though I did. After reading health happiness love longevity peace prosperity and safety I felt like Pete Tudish was the awesome, revered father of a childhood pal. Pete had a full, beautiful, big, big cycle on this planet. He made a positive difference.

Are we ever ready to say goodbye?


  1. Thanks, Donna.

    1. I feel like I should thank you for introducing me, if just in story, to your fab father.

      So then...thank you and BIG hugs.