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Continuing the welcome

Story by SSG Dalton Smith on 09/16/2019

PITTSBURGH, Pa. Nearly 68,000 cheering fans brought back warm memories to the World War II veterans walking onto Heinz Field in Pittsburgh today.

The Pittsburgh Steelers football team presented the ATI Salute to Heroes Award during the third quarter of their game against the Seattle Seahawks to two very deserving veterans. But the event meant more than the awards.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Theodore “Ted” Sikora, 99, a native of Washington, Pa., “We’re not used to this much recognition and I’m very grateful.”

He said this was a once in a lifetime moment and was very fortunate after receiving the award and on-field recognition. Comparing this to the home welcoming after Victory in Europe Day from his deployment to the European Theater during WWII.

Ted was a mechanic, with the 8th Army Air Force, “The Mighty Eighth”, on C-46 and C-47 planes during the Battle of the Bulge. Where he would repair aircraft that was badly damaged from enemy fire. He said the smell of burnt flesh and gunpowder was always present, but he liked being a mechanic and knew he was serving his country.

“You gotta keep moving,” said Ted.

He credited to being months away from 100 years old to still having an active lifestyle. He performs Zumba every week and maintains his yard. Ed hopes to follow his mother’s footsteps and live to at least 103 years old.

Next to Ted was Ed, his brother.

“I’m looking forward to 100 as well,” said Edward “Ed” Sikora, 96, also a native of Washington, Pa.

Ed was a senior in high school during the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the Army soon after graduating. He would then serve in two campaigns in the Philippines and Japan.

His unit, the 502nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, was first stationed in Hawaii, where they would scan the sea and sky for Japanese submarines and aircraft.

Soon after, his unit was deployed to Leyte in the Philippines. Here they would protect the combat engineers while they built air strips. He remembers seeing the flames from sinking U.S. Navy ships after the Japanese zero airplanes would “Kamikaze” suicide attack them. Ed wished his unit’s guns could help protect them, but they were too far away from the shoreline.

Ed had shot down 33 Japanese planes by the time the 502nd was complete in Leyte. They were then deployed to Okinawa, near Japan, with the same mission until the last couple days of the war.

The 502nd’s last mission would never come, a blessing Ed stated. As the U.S. would drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nagasaki was their next objective to take and was canceled soon after the bombing.

“I cherished the opportunity to serve my country,” said Ed.

Both brothers would return to southwestern Pennsylvania, where they would build their lives with starting families and, of course, become big Steelers fans.

Escorting Ted and Ed onto the field was their grandson-in-law / grandnephew-in-law (respectively), Sgt. 1st. Class Daniel Vollstedt, with the 2nd Battalion, Army Reserve Careers Division, based in Coraopolis, Pa.

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