By Torsten Ove
June 24, 2009
Milan Raseta, who served with the Chetnik rebels in occupied Yugoslavia in World War II and then made a life for himself in Duquesne and North Huntingdon as a state employee, was interred Saturday at a McKeesport mausoleum.
He died on June 16 at a hospital in Clearwater, Fla., north of his retirement home in Seminole. He was 88.
Mr. Raseta came to America after the war with $5 in his pocket, he told his friends.
He settled in Duquesne as a laborer and became editor of the Serb National Federation newspaper before taking a job at the state’s Bureau of Corporation Taxes in the 1970s, where he stayed until his retirement in 1985.
He also sang for 28 years with the chorus of the Pittsburgh Opera, where he met his wife, Marian, in the 1970s.
They married in 1979 and split their time between North Huntingdon and their Florida residence.
Born in 1920 in Lika, a mountainous region in Yugoslavia that is now part of Croatia, Mr. Raseta was proud of his Serbian heritage.
When refugees from the Balkans conflict came to Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, he took some of them in and helped many others assimilate with the aide of fellow Serbs at the two Serbian Orthodox churches he regularly attended, St. Sava in McKeesport and St. Nicholas in Monroeville.
“He was great big bear of a man (6-feet-4, 250 pounds),” said John G. Wuchenich, 73, of Whitehall, who sang with Mr. Raseta at the opera for 20 years. “But as big as he was, that’s as soft as his heart was.”
Like many veterans, however, he was quiet about his life in the old country and his service in the war, where as a teenager he became a guerilla fighter against the occupying Germans.
He told a few friends and his wife of his exploits with the Chetniks under Gen. Draza Mihailovich in the western part of Yugoslavia, but only in bits and pieces. Friends wanted him to write it all down in one narrative, but he never did.
“He was a rather private gentleman,” said Mr. Wuchenich. “He was very difficult to get anything out of.”
The details are sketchy, but after several years of fighting, Mr. Raseta and other young warriors were captured by the Germans near their home village and lashed together in pairs to dig what the Germans told them would be latrines.
As Mr. Raseta worked, he told Mr. Wuchenich, he realized he was digging his own grave.
He said he used the shovel to cut the wire binding him to his partner. He asked the other man to come with him, but he wouldn’t, so Mr. Raseta fled alone into the hills. All of the other young men, he learned later, were slaughtered.
Mr. Raseta returned to the field to fight and later saw action with the British in Norway in 1944. After the war, said his friend, Mike Vranesevic, 60, of Irwin, the British offered to return him to his homeland, but Marshall Tito and the communists had taken over in Yugoslavia and it was no place to go.
So, like many other Europeans after the war, he opted to come to America, traveling to New York and ending up with a Serbian enclave in East Pittsburgh.
He took construction jobs initially, then moved to Duquesne in 1947 and worked at the Serb National Federation throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He edited the newspaper for many years and kept up on the issues in the Serbian community here and abroad. He also served as president of the Duquesne lodge of the Serb National Federation.
“He was a man of intellect,” said George Klipa, 50, of Trafford, whose father knew Mr. Raseta well. “You could tell he had a lot on the ball.”
But he also was blunt-spoken and not one to be intimidated. He carried a gun and used it at least once.
Prior to a chorus rehearsal on a dark winter night in East Liberty in the 1970s, three men with knives tried to mug him on the street. As he told the story to Mr. Wuchenich, he pulled his pistol and faced them down.
“Maybe you guys are gonna take me,” he said, “but before I go, at least one of you is going to go. Which one of you is it going to be?”
The bandits ran off.
“He was a man’s man,” said Mr. Klipa.
Despite his passion for all things Serbian, Mr. Raseta left the federation in 1972 after an internal dispute there and went to work for the state for the next 13 years.
In his spare time, he devoted himself to the church in McKeesport and the opera chorus, where he had a reputation as a good singer and a man of dry wit and strong opinions.
But the war?
“He was quiet about that, like a lot of those Chetniks,” said Mr. Klipa. “He was a humble guy.”
Mr. Raseta was interred in a mausoleum at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery. His family asked that any memorial contributions be made to the St. Sava Church Renovation Fund.