Plaque commemorates soldier's valor in battleBy Debra Erdley
November 27, 2006
Helen Orsini remembers 1967.
Every day, she and her children prayed for her husband,
Donald Orsini, fighting a war half a world away in Vietnam
while they waited anxiously in their home along the Ohio River.
The Coraopolis woman never imagined her handsome young
officer's acts of courage, rescuing troops pinned down by enemy fire on Dec. 15, 1967, would echo through her life nearly
40 years later. On Sunday, more than eight years after his death, Orsini's bravery was front and center as representatives
of the Pittsburgh
chapter of the Military Order
of the Purple Heart and Italian American War Veterans knocked on her door.
Surrounded by the banter of her friends
and family, in the neat two-story frame house where Donald Orsini was born 70 years ago, Helen Orsini accepted a plaque on
behalf of the three-time recipient of the Purple Heart. Surrounded by her daughters, Dawn Orsini, Kathleen Myers and Gaetana
Wirth, and her son, Mark, Helen Orsini smiled through her tears as Lou Lacivita of the Pittsburgh
Chapter of the Italian American War Veterans announced yet another honor: The organization
will now be known as Orsini Chapter 32 of the Italian American War Veterans.
"We've always been very proud of my husband,"
Helen Orsini said, as her children and grandchildren piped in with family stories.
"The Army was his life, but he
always did say family was first," said Dawn Orsini, who hosted the family celebration.
A career military man, Donald
Orsini enlisted in the Army as a private after being sidelined by football injuries at Penn State University in 1956. He retired
in 1991 as a lieutenant colonel, having earned multiple awards for bravery in combat. He had bachelor's and master's degrees
in Russian history in a career that took him across the country, as well as to Vietnam
Orsini served two tours of duty in Vietnam
1967-68 and 1971-72. There, he earned three Purple Hearts, two oak leaf clusters, a bronze star and an Army commendation medal.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty," for his actions on Dec. 15,
1967, when he was wounded as he led a charge to rescue soldiers pinned under heavy enemy fire.
"He was my inspiration
for joining the Army," said Mark Orsini. A retired Army sergeant and veteran of the Gulf War, he traveled to Coraopolis from
his home at Fort Campbell, Ky
., to be with his mother
and sisters yesterday.
Donald Orsini died in 1998, after a 14-year-long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, an ailment
that family members said was linked to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam
Donald Orsini's courage under fire is detailed at Soldiers & Sailors Hall in Oakland
where he is among the men and women memorialized in the Hall of Valor. In Corapolis, officials renamed a street Lt. Col. Donald
Orsini Way, to honor their war hero.