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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Plaque commemorates soldier's valor in battle

By Debra Erdley
Monday, 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 and Germany.

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.

The Italian American One Voice Coalition


The intolerable behavior towards Americans of Italian descent will END when we unite and act with One United Voice


Executive Director, Dr. Emanuele Alfano, mannyalfano@
Editor, Tom  DeGenaro,


http://www.iaOneVoi ceCoalition. org/

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