World War II Army Air Corps veteran, John S. Pope, of Danville, shook off this mortal coil and joined the ranks of the angels on Sunday, May 9, 2021, his soul soaring peacefully surrounded by family and loved ones. A tenacious fighter until the end, the old belly-gunner now rests with his Lord and Savior in Heaven.
Born John Samuel Poparachny on the family farm on “Mile Hill” outside of Sunbury, he was the youngest son of William and Katrina Poparachny, Ukranian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island early in the 20th century. (According to family lore, the family surname was modified to “Pope” when the children’s one-room-school-house teacher complained that “Poparachny” was too difficult to spell and remember.) The last of his immediate family, he was preceded in death by brothers, Michael E. and Harry P. Pope, along with sisters, Anna McDonald, Rosalie Metzger, Mary Arbogast, Nelena Swank, and Arlene Bohner. While sad that John passed on Mother’s Day, it’s an uplifting thought that “Momma Pope” is reunited with all her offspring once again...
John is survived by the love of his life, wife Darlis L. (Lunger), a Geisinger Nursing School graduate who stole his heart after the war. Endlessly devoted to each other, they would have celebrated their 71st anniversary on June 3. He is also survived by a daughter, Ann E. Danese, who resides in Macungie, Pa. with husband Michael; and a son, Jeffrey G. Pope, who resides with wife Kathy in Danville. Loves of his life also include granddaughters, Kristen Bransby (husband Matthew) of Lancaster, Jennifer Keeble (husband Brett) of Quakertown, and Elizabeth Pope, Danville. Great-grandchildren, Gianna, Christian, Charlize, Michael, Nicholas John and Genevieve were his pride and joy of recent years, always bringing a bright glimmer to his eyes and a smile on his face. Another special “second-son” is Ronald Metzger of Reno, Nev., son of John’s sister, Rosie. The current patriarch of the annual Pope reunions, John was revered and loved by innumerable cousins and extended family.
One of Montour County’s few surviving World War II veterans, John enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant before being discharged in 1945. He was assigned to the 15th Air Force, 456th Bomb Group. The smallest member of his crew, he “qualified” for the position of ball-turret (“belly”) gunner on a B-24 Consolidated bomber. He flew 38 missions and 52 “sortees”, with mission campaigns in Rome, Arno, North Apennies, Southern France, Rhineland, Northern France, the Balkans, North Africa, and central Europe. Home-based primarily in Salerno, Italy, he was awarded 7 bronze stars and the Air Medal with 3 oak clusters. His crew also received two Presidential Unit Citations, one particularly crediting its continuing on and completing a bombing mission in bad weather when most of the planes had turned back. Usually a “lead” plane on each bombing mission, his crew flew various aircraft rather than a single ship. At times during the war, they had the distinction of manning the “Lady Corinne,” a legendary bomber that flew more combat missions than any other B-24. John was so honored that he was the recipient of a Quilt of Valor from the Columbia Montour Chapter.
Aside from working on the family dairy farm, John’s early employment included time with the railroad and a propane supply company. He later joined his brother Michael at Merck and Company, working there over 20 years. While employed at Merck, he was a founder of the Merck/Cherokee Credit Union, now expanded and flourishing under the Members Choice name. After restoring his home following the devastating 1972 flood, he left Merck to purchase a business that became Pope’s Plumbing and Heating, serving the Danville area faithfully for many years until his retirement. For a period of time in the 1970s he served as secretary for the PA State Plumbers Association.
A devoted Christian, he worshipped and served at Shiloh U.C.C. Church for many decades. Whether on the church Consistory, Building and Cemetery Committees, singing in the choir, or helping with any other job that needed done, he was always available. He was also very active with the church-sponsored Boy Scout Troop 48, serving as counselor or all-around Dad accompanying the boys on many memorable camping trips and 50-Mile hikes.
In earlier days, he enjoyed fishing, occasional golf with buddies, and hunting. He was a crack shot with his open-sight Savage carbine and dropped many a deer on the run. A long-time Penn State fan — especially football — he was proud that granddaughters and his son-in-law attended there. He cheered at many home games, a few away games, and several bowl games with cherished fan friends and family. For several years he and Darlis, often family or friends, ventured around the east coast in their “Tinkerbell” RV, including multiple trips to Disney World and other vacation sites. Living on the banks of the Susquehanna, he enjoyed the water, be it a backyard pool, diving in the breakers at Rehoboth Beach, or annual fishing trips to Canada. He played a mean harmonica by ear and could polka with the best of them. Home-bound during recent times, crime dramas, Westerns, “Pennsylvania Polka”, and “Jeopardy” were mainstays of TV viewing.
He was a 32nd degree Mason, a member of the Danville-Mahoning Lodge No. 224 and the Danville Elks, along with the American Legion Post 40. Over his lifetime, he was a member of various other groups, and always a supporter of local fire companies and charity organizations.
John’s family would like to extend their sincerest thanks to the physicians, nurses and staff of Geisinger Medical Center for all their efforts and kindness during his final days.
Friends and family will be received from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Thursday, May 13, for a walkthrough viewing (with masks and social distancing required) at Visneski Funeral Home, Inc., 42 W. Mahoning St., Danville. Masonic rites will be held at 11:45 a.m. with A Celebration of John’s Life to be held immediately following with the Rev. Mary Schmotzer, Shiloh United Church of Christ, officiating.
With respect to continuing COVID-19 restrictions, friends and family may view his service remotely by Facebook Livestream at www.facebook.com/visneskifh.
Burial will be held in the Odd Fellows Cemetery with full military honors accorded by Danville American Legion Post 40 Honor Guard and the United States Air Force Honor Guard.
The family will provide flowers.
Memorial contributions in John’s memory may be made to Shiloh United Church of Christ, 512 Bloom St., Danville PA 17821, or Danville American Legion Post 40 Veteran’s Wall Committee, 175 Northumberland St., Danville PA 17821.
Arrangements are under the direction of Visneski Funeral Home, Inc., 42 W. Mahoning St., Danville. www.visneski.com