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World War II fighter pilot, retired optometrist promotes recycling, renewable energy

A Mustang P-51 takes off from the Culpeper, VA airport, May, 7 2015. Practice flight were taking place in preperation for a flyover the National World War II Memorial on Friday, May 8, 2015, in Washington, D.C., as part of a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory-in-Europe Day.

RICK VASQUEZ/STARS AND STRIPES

By MICHAEL DIVITTORIO | The Tribune-Review | Published: June 10, 2019

PITTSBURGH (Tribune News Service) — Dr. Arthur Duppstadt owes most of his life to the French.

The now-retired optometrist from Leechburg was 20 when his P-51 Mustang, a single-seat fighter plane, was shot down during World War II in Nazi-occupied France.

It was Aug. 28, 1944, only about two years after he had graduated from Vandergrift High School.

Squadron 358 was about 80 miles east of Paris, attacking a train, when anti-aircraft shells struck his engine, but somehow the rest of the plane remained largely unscathed.

“I made a hell of a good crash landing with the wheels up,” said Duppstadt, 95. “You just slid in on the belly. I wasn’t hurt at all.

”I found the French, and they helped me underground.”

The U.S. military sent a telegram to his family that stated he was missing in action. Civilians hid him for about two weeks before he was able to rejoin the squadron.

The family received another telegram that announced Duppstadt had returned to active duty. He was reassigned as a flight instructor and was sent back to the U.S.

Duppstadt had been in his first year at Bucknell University when he joined what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps. Duppstadt’s original plan was to become a mechanical engineer.

“As a freshman, the war was heating up, and the services were coming to give officer training or teach you to fly,” he said. “I always wanted to learn to fly. That suited me pretty good. Flying takes 100% attention.”

He went through basic training at Walnut Ridge, Ark., and advanced training at Napier Field in Alabama.

Duppstadt said he was involved in more than 30 missions during his three years in the service and is proud to have served his country.

“A 19-year-old doesn’t worry,” he said. “That comes later.”

After the war, Duppstadt studied at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry near Philadelphia, graduating in 1949.

He worked with his father — fellow optometrist Dr. Orlo Duppstadt — and would establish his own practice at four locations in Leechburg. His son, uncle and granddaughter also are optometrists.

“There was a good place for me when I got out of school,” he said. “I would have been happy doing a lot of things, and my dad kind of wanted me to do it.”

Duppstadt retired last year after spending nearly 70 years helping thousands of patients. He holds patents for multifocal lenses, contact lenses, polishing instruments and related items.

At the same time that he was treating people’s eyes, he also was helping them see their impact on the environment.

He helped launch the Leechburg Rotary’s recycling program in the 1970s and was instrumental in developing the borough’s recycling center. He was honored by the Kiskiminetas Watershed Association and the Roaring Run Watershed Association for his environmental efforts.

“I’m passionate on not destroying our country,” Duppstadt said. “We need renewable energy. We can’t keep digging holes in the ground.”

He also would like to see a return to people separating their aluminum, paper and plastics instead of throwing everything into one recycling bin.

A portion of his home along Spring Valley Drive is made out of recycled materials. A nearby shed has solar panels that help produce electricity for Duppstadt and the West Penn Power grid.

He’s been a member of the Lower Burrell VFW Post 92 and Vandergrift American Legion Post 114 for decades.

Duppstadt is an emeritus member of the Penn State New Kensington advisory board and served as president of the Lower Kiski Ambulance Service board of directors, to name a few more organizations.

“People should volunteer more,” Duppstadt said. “When they can do something productive, they should do it.”

He credits his longevity and energy to his wife, Nancy, a retired nursing instructor from Vandergrift. She has been by his side for 63 years.

Asked about the secret to life, his wife is central to it: “We don’t say, ‘No,’ to each other very much,” Duppstadt said.

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