Editor’s Note: Robert Going’s poignant book “Where Do We Find Such Men?” is the definitive source for information about Amsterdam’s role in WWII. As his well-researched writings have documented, this Mohawk Valley community of ours has produced some incredible tales of courage, valor and sacrifice in defense of our freedom and the freedom of people around the world. I was thrilled when Mr. Going agreed to put together a list Amsterdam’s most valiant WWII heroes for my new book. It is an honor for me to include it in this compilation. I preview five of his selections in today’s post.I will post the complete list in my new book: Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.
Paring this list down wasn’t easy. Over 4,000 Amsterdam men, and quite a few women, served during World War II. The final list includes some chosen for their warrior skills, others for courageous displays of humanity, and some for both. Some died in battle, some came home and tried to live normal lives. There is no ranking here. They all deserve perpetual honor:
Tech. Sgt. Richard Marnell: Amsterdam’s most-decorated soldier. Distinguished Service Cross for action on November 15, 1944 when, under constant fire, single-handedly destroys two, German machine gun nests and captures seven soldiers. It went along with two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and five battle stars
(Reverend) Anthony Sidoti: Catholic chaplain, on November 8/9, 1944 assisted in the 90th Division crossing of the heavily flooded Moselle River, and then made numerous return crossings escorting the wounded while under heavy artillery fire for the next thirty-six hours. Awarded Silver Star. Spent November 25 removing wounded from the battlefield and earned Purple Heart when artillery shell bursts over his head. Returns to duty on March 13, 1945 and earns second Silver Star on March 17 in Germany rescuing wounded from the battlefield and incidentally inspiring disorganized American troops to rally and achieve victory.
PFC John (Jack) Blanchfield: While training to be an officer is suddenly called up with others as replacement troops after Normandy invasion and sent straight to the front in the summer of 1944. Taken prisoner, he organizes a POW work crew, essentially assuming the duties of Captain of a company. In a manner worthy of Hogan’s Heroes they continuously outwit their German captors often at risk of their lives, and build a concrete wall to block Russian tanks, which promptly disintegrates at its dedication. Late in the European war they escape en masse and Blanchfield leads his company behind enemy lines for several days before linking up with advancing American forces. He leaves all that out in his debriefing and is rewarded by promotion to corporal.
Cpl. Allen Pileckas (USMC): An Amsterdam High graduate from Hagaman. Already commended for bravery on Guam and with a Purple Heart from action there, he is serving with the Third Marine Division on Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945 under heavy rifle, mortar and machine gun fire. Crawls fifty yards through the thick of it alone and takes out the well-defended nest with a perfectly placed grenade. He then takes shrapnel to the head and dies two days later at the age of 24.
Staff Sgt.. Fenton Brown: A former Wilbur H. Lynch athlete, during Battle of Naples, October 3, 1943, earned Bronze Star and Purple Heart, crawling out of his foxhole to rescue a wounded comrade and administering First Aid under fire. In August of 1944, in France, he found himself in command of a 35-man platoon assigned to cover a retreat. He organized his men, personally killed or wounded 25 Germans with his machine gun, then picked up his M-1 rifle and shot two more, organized a counter-attack and regained the lost ground, earning a Silver Star. Killed by a sniper on October 5, 1944. According to his Class of 1938 yearbook he hoped to become a football hero.