It was one of the nights I couldn’t sleep so I turned on the TV and was watching either the History or Military Channels and they were interviewing a WWII Vet who had been among the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Fifty years later he had been hired by director Steven Spielberg to serve as a consultant for the depiction of that same landing that opened Spielberg’s epic war movie Saving Private Ryan. That landing scene that opens the movie remains one of the most shocking and terrifying cinema segments I’ve ever viewed in my life and I remember thinking, no, actually hoping it was more fiction than fact. But on that night I couldn’t sleep, I heard this brave old veteran explain how he had to leave the set of the movie during its shooting because it was being so realistically recreated by Spielberg that watching it unfold had caused him to suffer terrifying flashbacks.
Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Richard Dantini was a 19-year-old Army private and one of 197 members in Company A of the 29th Infantry Division, who were speeding toward Omaha Beach that June morning in 1944 aboard six landing craft. Only two of those crafts, including the one carrying the South Side native made it to the landing point and Dantini was among the first wave to hit the beach. Remember the scene in Spielberg’s movie? Dantini was about to live through it, but just barely. He was hit in the arm shortly after reaching the sand and for the next several hours he was pinned down by relentless enemy fire of every sort and hit by by that fire twice more, once in each leg. He ended up unconscious, barely alive and bleeding, lying behind a large rock. The next day, an alert member of a body recovery crew noticed he was still breathing and Dantini spent the next thirteen months recovering from his wounds in Army hospitals. And then he came home.
Home for Dantini was his parents house on Montgomery Street, where he had been raised with his brother Hermie and sister Delsie. His dad, William Dantini ran a popular Bridge Street grocery store with his partner, Angelo Perfetti. Young Richie and his brother Hermie would follow their father into the grocery trade, becoming partners in a Market that would become a food-shopping institution on Amsterdam’s Southside…
My complete birthday post for Richard Dantini will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.
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