Olyphant, PA native, Lt. Col. Stephen J. Podgorski, USAF Ret., passed away peacefully on Nov. 18, 2020 in San Marcos, CA at the age of 98. He was a World War II veteran.
He was the son of John Podgorski and Maryanna Mazur Podgorski, both immigrants from Poland. In addition to his parents, he was pre-deceased by his beloved wife of 58 years, Mary Louise (Gyomory) Podgorski who grew up in Dunmore. Also predeceasing him were his brother Joseph and Joe’s wife Mary, and his sisters Josephine Podgorski and Sophie Kashuba and her husband Stanley.
He is survived by his son Richard (Rick) Podgorski and his wife Susan of Carlsbad, CA and by his daughter Suzanne (Sue) Galpin and her husband Mark of Cheyenne, WY. Survivors also include his grandson Michael Podgorski and his wife Nathalie and their daughter, his great-granddaughter Avery, all of San Diego, CA; granddaughter Anne (Annie) McCartney and her husband Jeff of West Richland, WA; his grandson Daniel Podgorski and Dan’s fiancé Nabra Nelson, both of Seattle, WA; and by his granddaughter Jennifer Podgorski of Carlsbad, CA. — and by many much-loved nieces, nephews, and good friends
Growing up, he received the nickname Dusty from his buddies. He was baptized and later confirmed at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Olyphant. The guys filled their days with school, games, neighborhood rambles, hitchhiking to Lake Ariel and other locations, and going to Saturday matinees at the old Granada Theatre (selling copes of the Scranton newspapers to earn the price of admission, and occasionally sneaking in!). His heroes were the Western stars Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and Hoot Gibson.
A self-confessed mediocre student in grade school, he had the good fortune in eighth grade to have as his teacher Sister Ernestine who “changed the course of his life” by asking what he wanted to become in life. He responded quickly, “An Army Air Corps Pilot!” The good sister pointed out that to achieve his dream he would have to work hard and get good grades, and he did.
Dusty graduated from Olyphant High School in 1941. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he even wanted to go to Canada to become a pilot and join the fight right away. Instead, after the attack he was accepted in the Army Air Corps Cadets Program and, after a three-day train ride from Wilkes-Barre, PA to San Antonio, TX, began his decades-long career as a military officer.
Receiving his pilot wings in November 1943 was one of the proudest days of his life. After additional training in various aircraft, he eventually made his way to a jungle airstrip named Tanuan on the island in New Guinea. From there he flew missions around the Western Pacific in his C-46 transport aircraft. They carried infantry troops, brought out the wounded, and ferried tons of supplies and ammunition to various combat locations. Enemy soldiers still in their area occasionally lobbed mortars and directed cannon fire at their aircraft. Towards the end of the war, Dusty and his crew flew cargo to the recently bombed city of Nagasaki whose survivors presented a tragic sight to see and describe.
After the war, he returned to Dunmore where he and Mary were wed in 1947 at the old St. Casimir’s Church there. Recalled to active duty in 1952, he became a Command Pilot (September 1960) and served honorably in locations including England, Georgia, Newfoundland, and Massachusetts. His last assignment was as a member of the Eighth Air Inspector General Team at Westover Air Force Base near Chicopee, MA. He and Mary then retired to their dream home in beautiful Granby, MA where they spent their days happily together.
Dusty became a very adept woodworker, making rocking chairs, high chairs, rocking horses and other objects, usually bearing the artfully painted name of the child who received them. He loved all children and retained a childlike love of holidays, especially Christmas and Halloween. Even dating from his newly-married years in Dunmore, he loved to play Santa Claus with the most beautiful live tree complete with delightful village and Lionel Train nestled below it. At Halloween he would paint cartoon characters on small pumpkins for each of his grandchildren and other lucky kids.
Throughout his life, he retained a keen interest in current affairs, reading papers and magazines voraciously and watching news shows on TV. He also loved to watch movies at home, especially musicals, comedies, and the westerns from his childhood and afterwards. Music was also a lifelong love of his, especially the Big Band tunes and performers of his youth.
Dusty had a big heart as evidenced by the constant stream of donations he directed to a myriad of charities including childrens’ hospitals, Native American schools, veterans’ charities, religious organizations and more. He was undaunted when his mailbox would fill up daily with new solicitations from these and others. He looked forward to it.
Donations in Dusty’s memory may be made to the charity of your choice. May he rest in the peace of the Lord.