Local Zelienople man stays positive throughout ALS diagnosis

Robert G. Dorsch, a husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, son, and role model, was diagnosed with ALS in the summer of 2009. He was given two years to live. He is sitting here in 2018, eight years since he was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that gives patients a few years to live as it eats away at the muscle and can develop into muscle atrophy and health complications.

NICHOLAS GIRARD: So, I want to begin with this question. What was your life like before ALS? 

ROBERT DORSCH: Well, more than one would expect in being comfortable and being able to do what you wanted to do. I had a great wife. Great children. They allowed me to stay positive throughout my life. They helped me around the house, pursuing my dreams, and in return, I developed their character for the future.  

 I continued to ask him questions about his past, but I turned the page. I asked him, what allowed him to be positive? 

His answer was almost the same as the first question, his wife and kids, and something he never really told me. His faith in God and his religion. It allowed him to have a lot of time to, “think,” and he was able to mend lots of relationships. To enjoy life, he says, “I’ve done that fairly well, I believe.” 

We sat in silence for a while, and I pushed forward. “Mr. Dorsch, do you remember your military career?” 

He looked over at me, and he said, “you better make sure that pen works.” I nodded and said that it does. He started off by saying he was in college, for 1 ½ years, and he heard the military draft was becoming a reality. He finished college and signed up to be one of the first drafted because, he didn’t have much he wanted to do. He was one of the first people drafted, and he was assigned to become a paratrooper, provided 8 weeks of training. “It was a great experience. I met a lot of good people, learned powerful life lessons, and that’s what I wanted to do.” He went on to say that he was assigned to Fort Knox and Jacksonville, where he spent most of his time. He goes on to say that most of the people there were Hispanic and Latino, making the whites a minority there. He says it was a majority rule, so “whoever was more in numbers, basically was in charge.”  

“I was offered 3 positions, a library manager, Gym manager, and cook manager. I declined all 3 jobs. They were too cushy and not strong jobs like I wanted. I wanted to be up in the sky, paratrooping, not down organizing supplies for my buddies. I thought I was the best soldier. But I guess that’s what everyone thinks. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.” 

“They decided I had to become an infantryman. I was crushed. Again, I wanted to be up in the sky, fighting the enemy. Instead, I had to organize supplies, but at the end of the day, me and my buddies, there were 5 of us, were together, so I obliged. I spent all day in an office, while they were sweating and working, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.” 

NICHOLAS: Are you a certified veteran, and do you receive any compensation for being a wounded veteran? 

ROBERT: I am a veteran of the Korean war. I worked from 1950-55, so in that period if you served the military, you were automatically a veteran of that war. That makes me a Korean war veteran. Secondly, I do receive a check monthly for my disability. It’s not much, maybe $100-200, but it’s something.  

NICHOLAS: Wasn’t your ALS diagnosis after you retired? 

ROBERT: Yes, but if you have ALS or any other non-genetic disease and you served in the war, you are granted the title of a wounded warrior or such and receive compensation. ALS is the only genetic exception.  

NICHOLAS: Better than nothing I would assume… 

ROBERT: That’s right

This man has been through so much, he lived in Pittsburgh, moved to Zelienople, served in the Korean war, all while having seven kids and being active in his community. He deserves so much respect. And he has been a man of good faith, going to church every Sunday since he was married. Married to the same woman for 60 years.

“You know why I have so much money? Because I don’t use more than I need at a time…- Robert Dorsch