One of the key reasons I write about my hometown is to make sure this generation and future generations of Amsterdam residents have access to hometown case histories. My intent is to highlight all kinds of examples of how folks from this city made positive impacts on the lives of others. Most of my subjects come from very humble beginnings and use their heads, hearts, hands and guts in varying degrees to make that impact. Gabe Vertucci provides a near perfect example. Why? Gabe’s story is both interesting and inspirational yet almost typical of the kind of people who have made this upstate community such a special place to call home. Allow me to explain to you what I mean.
Gabe was the son of Italian immigrants who came to this country at right around the turn of the century and settled in Amsterdam. Actually, Pasquale and Josephine DeRose Vertucci settled just west of the city, in Ft. Johnson where they raised a large family of eight girls and four boys. Gabe was born on April 13, 1924. He attended local schools and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the US Marine Corp.
His Battalion was activated on May 1, 1943 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as the second Battalion, 25th Marines. They relocated to Camp Pendleton, California later that summer. They were deployed for combat during January of 1944 and Corporal Vertucci saw action on Tinian, Saipan and Iwo Jima.
On Saipan, he was involved in fierce close quarters fighting. He took a bullet through his helmet before shooting one enemy attacker. He won his first Purple Heart when he was hit in the hand with grenade shrapnel. He won a second Purple Heart when another enemy round fired from close-range hit an ammo clip he was carrying in his pocket and deflected into his hip.
On Iwo Jima, Gabe was one of just three Marines still fighting from his entire company. He was then shot in the head again and this time the bullet ricocheted around the inside of his helmet causing serious head injuries. Medics operating under a field tent with nothing but lantern-light were able to save his life and Gabe earned his third and final Purple Heart.
As I read about his horrific experiences it struck me that Mr. Vertucci had to actually call upon more raw courage in each successive and more terror filled island engagement he was involved in. After fierce jungle fighting and barely escaping death on Saipan he somehow summoned the bravery necessary to get off the damn landing vessel on Iwo Jima and walk into another hell.
When he first left service he went to Pennsylvania and worked in construction for a few years. He then came back to Amsterdam and got a job working at General Electric Co. in Schenectady all during the 1950’s. In 1957, he began moonlighting construction jobs during the evenings. By 1960, he decided to give up his GE position and go into construction full time. He formed Gabriel Contractors with his two brothers Anthony and Art. The firm specialized in excavation work and quickly earned a reputation in the trade for doing quality work at fair prices. When the brothers opened the Robo Car Wash on Edson Street as a second family owned business in 1968, Amsterdam car-owners flocked to the state of the art facility whenever the sun was shining. Gabe’s family has carried on his legacy with his son Rick taking the lead.
There was absolutely nothing outwardly fancy about Gabe Vertucci. He looked you right in the eye when he talked to you and when he made a commitment or gave you a price he honored it. He worked very hard for a very long time and he cherished his wife Nancy and his six children. He died in 2007 at the age of 83, over a half-century after almost losing his life twice in defense of his country. I know the phrase “They don’t make them like that anymore” is considered a worn out cliché but it would be a perfect epitaph for this very special man.