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Remembering a hero

There’s a common thread that runs through the lives of just about everyone who is a true hero: It’s not often that you will hear them talk about what it is that made them a hero.

Fred McGee was one of those people.

In addition to everything McGee accomplished in his life, he was willing to take on sports officiating. He was a longtime member of the Steubenville Umpires Association, and his activity with the organization was coming to an end just about the same time that mine was getting started in the mid-1970s.

Fred was a good umpire, one of the best in the area, but I never heard him talk at all about his past, and how the young corporal from Bloomingdale, a 1949 graduate of Wayne High School, distinguished himself during a battle on Hill 528 in Tang-Wan-Ni, Korea, on June 16, 1952. His squad faced heavy fire from entrenched enemy forces that outnumbered them. After his squad leader was wounded and the second in command was unable to lead, McGee assumed command and led an advance.

Enemy fire was heavy, but McGee, who suffered wounds to his leg and face, helped to evacuate wounded comrades in the midst of mortar and artillery fire. After his squad was ordered to withdraw, McGee stayed behind to help evacuate the wounded and the dead.

Heroic actions for sure and, in fact, according to all reports from the day, worthy of the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military honor that is awarded by Congress for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty. He did receive the Silver Star, among other medals, for his actions, but it is likely he never received the Medal of Honor — which he had been promised on the battlefield — because he was an African-American.

McGee, who died on Jan. 3 at the age of 89, did receive recognition locally, and had been named the Jefferson County Veteran of the Year in September. Another honor came his way on March 15 when members of the Steubenville Umpires Association presented his family with a plaque that recognized his service.

“I believe I officiated my first Little League game with Fred,” Steve Seminara remembered while making the presentation in the cafeteria of Harding Middle School. “All I can say is that in all the years I worked with him, never, never did I hear him talk about his service history or anything that happened. And then I read an article in the paper one day and I said, oh my goodness.”

Seminara is among the veteran umpires in our area, having been involved in officiating since the early 1970s.

“We are so proud to know that he was a part of our association, and I know I speak on behalf of the many hundreds of members we have had during the years, going back to the organization’s inception.

“I knew we had to do something, and I just felt it was proper,” he continued. “We honor people for so many things today, but when you are willing to put your life on the line, that’s the most sacrifice you can make.”

Among those who were there that day to honor McGee was Gerald DiLoreto. In addition to being a longtime educator in our area and his service as Steubenville’s 1st Ward councilman, DiLoreto spent many years as a member of the umpires association. But that shouldn’t be surprising — his father helped to form the association more than 70 years ago.

“He was a great man,” DiLoreto said of McGee. “One of the greatest men I ever met. When you look at the records, you can see he was a hell of a man. He was one of the best umpires we ever had.”

Seminara said he remains awed at the way McGee carried himself.

“When I started umpiring I was pretty young and didn’t know much about it,” he remembered. “Fred was always the one who took you under his wing. He did that with every young umpire. He’d spend extra time with you and made sure that when you went out on the field he never left you hanging. I could see the respect he commanded from everyone wherever we went to officiate. He was such a great person, and everyone should be proud of him.

“To serve his country in the way he did was just incredible, and I hope the higher-ups will give this man the credit he deserves.”

That’s a good point. Attempts have been made to have the record reviewed and corrected, and McGee’s family and local veterans are still waiting for an answer. According to Barry Bardone, adjutant for the Jefferson County Veterans Association, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, himself an Air Force veteran, has been working to bring the issue to resolution.

Fred McGee, the plaque that was presented during that March afternoon reads in part, ” was more than just a hero. He never looked for praise, but he was heroic with his quiet strength … As a former member of our association, we recognize him for his professionalism, leadership and dedication to the youth of this area. May God bless Fred McGee.”

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The accompanying photo of four umpires, which was found by Seminara, offers a look back — and a request for a little help. That’s Fred McGee on the left and, second from the right, the late Conny Mascio, another longtime member of the Steubenville Umpires Association. No one’s quite sure when the photo was taken, where the photo was taken (the couple of people who have seen the photo don’t recognize the field) or who the other two umpires are and what association they represent. If you can help, please contact me. (The photo also appears on Page 2B of today’s edition.)

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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