SURPLUS AL: A WITNESS TO A CENTURY

8:15 pm Profiles

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

March 21, 2004

DAWN SHURMAITIS Special to the Times Leader

HUNLOCK TWP. – Today is Albert Yascavage’s 81st birthday. He has survived the Great Depression, the storming of Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, the Agnes flood and the death of a beloved son.

Ever-curious and self-taught, Yascavage continues to forge ahead in this age of the Internet, creating his own Web page and even trading on eBay.

Over the years, the Hunlock Creek resident has earned a worldwide reputation for an encyclopedic knowledge of military radios and manuals, trading under the moniker “Surplus Al.”

He houses his radio crystals and military manuals – which number in the tens of thousands – in a warehouse and small workshop crammed with collectibles that include a photo of the USS Missouri and a John Dillinger wanted poster.

He lives alongside his workshop in a warm, well-kept house with Dolores, his wife of 52 years.

“I was always honest and never cheated anybody,” he says, threading a thin path between floor-to-ceiling collections. “That’s why I never got ahead.”

He discovered radio as a boy in the Fiddler’s Green section of Plymouth Township, picking up signals from far-off radio stations using a battery-powered crystal set. At night he’d keep his “ear to the world,” listening to everything from hillbilly music to Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson.

His passion later served as a foundation for his military service. After stints in the Civilian Conservation Corps and Merchant Marines, Yascavage joined the Army, serving as a radio operator with the Second Signal Company, Second Infantry.

Overseas, Yascavage earned medals – and even bathed once in good champagne. He witnessed the horrors of a newly liberated concentration camp and heard a rousing speech from Gen. George Patton. Those are memories that remain with him to this day.

In 1946, Yascavage returned home, soon joining the 109th Field Artillery of the Pennsylvania National Guard and starting a radio and television business in West Nanticoke.

For years, Yascavage combed Army depots up and down the East Coast looking for obsolete military radios such as the BC-1000 and the SCR 536.

In 1972, the Agnes flood claimed most of his inventory. “I had four or five thousand books and crystals floating down the river. I couldn’t rebuild.”

Along the way, he also published a one-man senior citizen newspaper distributed throughout five counties.

A ham radio operator since 1951, Yascavage still frequents amateur radio shows. “You can work the world on 4-5 watts,” he says, ticking off his call letters of W3UGD. “I even talked to people from Antarctica. I had a lot of friends I’d talk to about radio. Of course, most of them are dead now.”

Today, he sells his wares primarily through the on-line auction house eBay. “Without eBay, I couldn’t pay my taxes. It’s not much, but it helps.”

Buyers hail from all over the world, he says, showing off a package ready for shipment to London. “When they want information on government radios they come to me. This business will never die. Collectors will be here forever.”

Although he suffered a stroke a few years back, he hardly shows the effects, touting the benefits of soya lecithin. If the vitamin makers were smart, Yascavage would star in their commercials.

In an effort to reach out to long-absent war buddies, he created a Web site (www.wwiibuddy.com) and uses an e-mail (surplsal@ptd.net). The Web site, which carries numerous photos, also tells his life story.

His aim, he says, is “to leave some part of a meaningful legacy.”

 

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