August 11 – Happy Birthday Richard Dantini

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 at 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 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 that scene’s 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 lying behind a large rock unconscious, barely alive and bleeding. 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 Dantini’s South Side Market, which would become a food-shopping institution on Amsterdam’s South Side.

In April of 1947, he married his South Side sweetheart, Jayne Marie Quattrocchi at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the ceremony performed by Father Burke. After a reception at the Century Club and dinner at the Hob Nob Restaurant, the new couple honeymooned in Montreal. At first they lived in the house of Richie’s parents on Montgomery Street. After a few more moves and a having two children, they ended up in their own home up the hill on Essex Street. That’s where they raised their two sons. Billy and Mark.

Dantini spent a large part of the rest of his life supporting and honoring his fellow veterans, especially those who were disabled. It was a common occurrence for Amsterdam veterans to stop and see Richie either at the store or his home and ask for help or advice about a veteran’s benefit or health issue and he always welcomed them and did whatever he could on their behalf. For years until he couldn’t physically do it any more, Richie took it upon himself to tend the beautiful grounds of the Fifth Ward Veterans’ Memorial Park, which was located right next door to his market. He told his family that he treated every day of his life after that horrible D-Day morning on Omaha Beach as a gift or bonus and he spent the rest of his life showing his appreciation for having been spared.

Dantini passed away in 2000 at the age of 76. In 2013 a plaque in his honor was added to the Memorial Park he loved so very much.

 

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