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A memoir of an American hero: The Vargo Legacy

May 26, 2014

I hope you all have been enjoying the holiday weekend! As we culminate the long weekend with Memorial Day, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a life that is so inspiring and instrumental to my own. This article is adopted from an essay I wrote a few years ago, I hope it provides a little inspiration.


Although my Grandpa Vargo passed away six years ago, I feel like he is still here today. Every holiday we shared together, my cousins and I would beg him to make us stuffed cabbage or fried zucchini. We would spend time picking vegetables in his garden and fight over whose turn it was to ride the tractor. While the Vargo house was chaos, we could always find Grandpa in his recliner with the news blaring and a smile on his face. He was a humble man who enjoyed the company of his family more than anything. From listening to him talk, it was evident he had experienced a great deal in his life. Every once in a while I could get him to tell me more about the stories of his life, especially the ones of him being a prisoner of war in World War II.


Growing up on the east side of Youngstown, Ohio to Hungarian immigrants, my grandfather, Steve Vargo, embodied the American Dream. The oldest of seven children, my grandfather, was forced to drop out of school in eleventh grade to work during the Great Depression. He worked his way up to being a supervisor at McKenzie Muffler. Not long after the beginning of World Wart II, my grandpa was drafted for the army. McKenzie Muffler’s president did everything in his power to have my grandfather deferred, but my grandfather insisted on fulfilling his duty to his country. Upon being activated, he was assigned to the 32nd Mechanized Calvary and worked his way up to being a corporal.  His main responsibilities were working as 60 mm mortar operator as well as being on patrol duty.


My grandfather’s life changed forever on December 17, 1944. It was the Battle of the Bulge and my grandfather and his fellow soldiers stopped at the rest camp of the 99th Division after 20 hours of marching. At 4:30 a.m. a fellow American officer woke them up to tell them the Germans were closing in on the camp. It wasn’t long after, my grandfather and his soldiers were forced to surrender. The next four months my grandfather would spend as a prisoner of war. Christmas Eve of that year was one of my grandfather’s scariest memories, as he wasn’t sure he would survive. The Germans kept the American prisoners in boxcars knowing the British and Americans were blowing up the German railroads to prevent them from transporting goods. My grandfather and the other prisoners were locked in boxcar when they heard a great commotion outside. He looked out the window at what appeared to be fireworks, but they were British bombs being dropped. They were spared getting hit, but the next morning grandfather looked outside the window and the railroad tracks looked like pretzels, he knew he had been lucky.


My grandfather remembered how he and his fellow soldiers were marched from village to village performing duties commanded by the German soldiers, including digging graves for fallen German soldiers. He recalled being cold as the Germans had taken all of their warm clothes including boots and coats. It was a long four months, but one early morning in May 1945 my grandfather was awakened by loud noises from outside the building where he was sleeping. As he peered out the window, he witnessed German soldiers leaving the area. A celebration took over the building as the Americans realized they were being rescued!

My grandfather made his way back to his hometown of Hubbard, Ohio and continued on his legacy of hard work and determination. He met the woman of his dreams, my grandma Mary, got married, and raised five amazing children, one of which is my father. He lived 94 amazing years of life and left with the wish that his family would continue the tradition of being the Vargo family and living the American Dream.


My grandfather’s prisoner of war legacy extends beyond the Vargo family tree. He was chosen as a World War II interviewee for a local school project, which was inducted into the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. His story remains among the thousands of stories that define our country’s history. His legacy and hard work have transcended the generations as his own children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who vividly remember the passion and love he showed for his family and his country.


My grandfather’s life is a model for me as I continue to pursue my dreams in hopes to honor my country and family by serving as a leader in the world of health. My grandfather was not given the opportunity to pursue education as the demands of the Great Depression, World War II, and raising a family pulled his efforts elsewhere. Because of his life, I have been given the opportunity that he wasn’t able to pursue. I must stay humble like my grandfather, and work hard everyday, even at the small endeavors. Looking at the events of his life, I realize that anything is possible with hard work and faith.


My grandfather was forced to drop out of school, worked to support his family, survived being a prisoner of war, and returned home to meet the woman of his dreams, start a gorgeous family, and live to the age of 94 to see his family flourish. I know that life is full of challenges, but when things get tough, I think back to what it would have been like in the Battle of Bulge, being forced to dig graves, or wonder if it would be my last day to live. I realize that no matter how difficult or challenging life may seem, I must never give up. When I am not sure of how the future will unfold I think of how my grandfather woke up to see the Germans leaving, celebrating the end of the war, and meeting my grandmother. It reminds me that life has a way of working itself out, regardless of what we can or cannot see ahead of us.


I hope to seize every opportunity, learn as much as I can, and appreciate the life that my grandfather set up for me to live. I am so grateful for his love, hard work, and faith. His life never ceases to amaze me, especially his World War II prisoner of war experience. My grandfather lived out the American Dream, now it is up to me to keep his legacy alive through love, hard work, and faith.


My grandfather's legacy serves as a constant reminder that anything is possible! He faced some pretty daunting challenges, and never, ever gave up. As trying and hard as life may seem at times, his life reminds me that it gets better. 


I hope you have the opportunity to spend today with your family, friends, and loved ones. Don't ever give up and know that you can do anything you believe in.


Thank you to all of you for your support and to all of those who have served our country.


As always, I love hearing from you! Twitter & Facebook is where I am :)!





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