Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sgt. Michael Strank: A Carpatho-Rusyn Pennsylvanian

“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”
(Photo by Joe Rosenthal)
Михал Стренк / Mychal Strenk
Born in 1919 in Jarabina, Czechoslovakia;
Came to the U.S. in 1922, known as Michael Strank;
Died in 1945 on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands;
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
(Originally appeared as "A Rusyn American Hero: Sergeant Michael Strank" in the New Rusyn Times (Pittsburgh, PA), May/June 2000.)

Sergeant Michael Strank (1919-1945) was one of the five Marines and a Navy corpsman who during the battle with the Japanese on February 23, 1945, raised the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific theatre of World War II. The photo of this event, taken by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, became one of the most recognized images of the 20th century, and in it, Mike stands for the legions of Rusyns who, like him, left their Carpathian Mountain homeland, full of hopes and dreams, to begin a new life in America – the country for which many of them and their children would give the supreme sacrifice.

Mike Strank (Mychal Strenk) was born in 1919 in the Rusyn village of Orjabyna [official name: Jarabina] in the heart of the Rusyn-inhabited northern Spiš County in present-day Slovakia. His parents, Vasyl' and Marta (Grofik) Strenk, came to the United States with young Mychal in the early 1920s and settled in Franklin Borough, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with many of their fellow villagers from Orjabyna. They attended Holy Trinity Rusyn Greek Catholic Church just across the river in Conemaugh.

Holy Trinity Greek Catholic Church in Conemaugh, the Strank family's spiritual home in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Super-Awesome Late-Spring Research Trip

All set for Memorial Day: St. Mary's
Orthodox Cemetery of Dickson City.
When in the early years of this project I still lived in Pennsylvania, research trips might last just a few hours and for the most part involved places I could easily reach without too much advance planning. These days, when it takes me more than two hours just to arrive in Pennsylvania, I like to extend my trips as long as reasonably possible. And usually I can manage just two a year: around & including Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

This spring I managed to schedule eight whole days around Memorial Day to devote to fieldwork. The first part was in western PA, the second part in northeastern PA. It went so well, mostly according to plan but with some wonderful surprises, that I want to share a travelogue. And perhaps this will help readers appreciate some of how I've been spending my time all these years without a finished product to show for it. (Yet.)

First Leg: Western PA

I spent a lot of time in cemeteries on this trip, mainly to either photograph them thoroughly for the first time, to improve my existing archive of photos, or to investigate the Rusyn immigrants, if any, buried in various non-Rusyn cemeteries. While my book will include lots of cemetery and gravestone photos, in recent years I've felt it worthwhile, if not actually essential, to photograph most of the graves of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants buried in PA and elsewhere, as time, the elements, and vandalism are constantly reducing the readable stock of these tombstones. Beyond the limited number I'll be using in my book, if nothing else I will also have a protected digital record of these valuable memorials to our people's presence and lives.