May 25, 2018
By Michael P. Mauer
Three Walt Kuczma scholarships totaling $1,000 were presented by West Mifflin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid to students during the West Mifflin Area High School senior recognition day May 23. Receiving the top award was Zkkrah (Ziggy) Patterson. Meilin Titus earned second place honors, while Jacob Kosuda won third.
In addition to each winner receiving a recognition certificate from the post, the scholarships included monetary awards of $500, $300 and $200 respectively. Each of the students competed by writing an essay on an assigned patriotic theme.
The submitted works were judged by faculty members of West Mifflin Area High School. The compositions will be read at the post’s next monthly meeting held at the Thompson Run Athletic Association on Ball Avenue, West Mifflin, 7 p.m. June 28.
For the top awardee Patterson, this was the second scholarship he has received from VFW Post 914. The West Mifflin student won the unit’s $100 Voice of Democracy prize in 2016.
“The post was very encouraged that students are taking advantage of the opportunities offered through the VFW youth activities programs,” said scholarship organizer and VFW Post 914 Quartermaster, Gary Ruston. “When this was set up by our VFW Post 914 founder many years ago, the idea was to provide something that would positively impact our youth and community.”
The West Mifflin VFW scholarship program is named after the post’s founder and first commander, Walter R. Kuczma. Raised on Pittsburgh’s South Side during the Great Depression, he enlisted into the United States Navy during World War II at the age of 17, and served aboard the USS Intrepid – the battle-hardened aircraft carrier for which VFW Post 914 is named.
While aboard the Intrepid, Kuczma worked on a flight crew that fused bombs and loaded combat aircraft during the largest naval engagement in history – the Battle of Leyte Gulf. During the attack, Kuczma watched as 73 shipmates on the ship’s hangar deck were killed by a Japanese kamikaze. He was fortunate enough to be behind a metal pillar that protected him.
Eventually settling in West Mifflin, Kuczma continued his military service by enlisting for 36 years with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. He rose to the rank of Master Sergeant before retiring. He died April 17, 2010 at the age of 83.
Among the awards and honors, Kuczma received was his induction into the Southwestern Veterans Center Hall of Fame in 2006. He is one of three members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid West Mifflin to be so honored.
As the post’s first commander, Kuczma assisted with parades, support of local youth athletic teams, the unit’s first Pearl Harbor Remembrance Ceremony and other VFW activities that helped the post earn All American honors. He was also instrumental in establishing post backing for the West Mifflin Area High School Titan Marching Band and the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program.
The Kuczma scholarships are awarded each year to graduating seniors at West Mifflin Area High School, and provide cash awards to three students seeking postsecondary education. All applicants for the scholarships must have had a family member who served honorably in the United States armed forces. Those interested in applying should contact the high school’s guidance office.
Additionally, the post is active in the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy programs, with West Mifflin instructor Melissa Fulmer, the post’s nominee, being selected as the state VFW Voice of Democracy Teacher of the Year in 2017.
For more information about VFW Post 914 and its activities, visit the group’s website at: http://traa.weebly.com/vfw-post-914.html , or contact VFW Post 914 Commander Bradich at: 412-464-9838.