Just discovered it was John Duchessi Sr’s birthday today. Those of you who didn’t know the second of Amsterdam’s “Duke” Duchessi’s (John’s older brother Pete was the first Duke in the family and his son, former Amsterdam Mayor and namesake John Jr was the third) missed out on a unique experience. I thought I’d use his birthday to offer some memories I have of a special group of WWII veterans from Amsterdam, who I got to know many years ago.
I met Duke when I was around eleven years old. My Uncle was a member of Amsterdam’s Frank Sirchia AmVet Post and so was he. Every spring before Memorial Day, their post used to put the flags on the graves of all the dead veterans buried in Amsterdam’s cemeteries. What made this task extremely time consuming was the mediocre and inconsistent burial records each cemetery maintained at the time. It was known pretty much which veterans were buried in each cemetery but a map showing where each of their graves were located within that cemetery did not exist. As a result, someone needed to walk each row of each cemetery looking for each veteran’s grave. Since all the members of the Post had full time jobs during the day, the search at each cemetery didn’t begin until after dinner, usually about 6PM which meant you had about three hours before darkness fell. That’s why my Uncle used to always bring me along to help and that’s how I first met Duke and the other members of Amsterdam’s Sirchia Post.
Guys like Red Botch who used to run a diner up on Prospect street right across from the Clock Building; the Picciocca brothers Tony and Johnny; the Manganelli boys, Nick and Ralph; Tony Marcellino the mason, Joe Campochiro the house painter; Mareo Tambasco the insurance agent and Joe Callella, the only guy in the group who did not tend to use four letter words as an adjective every now and then.
I have to tell you, those spring evenings, walking through our local cemeteries with that group of middle-aged men, putting flags on the graves of people who served this country was one of the nicest memories of my childhood…