October 23 – Happy Birthday Richard Marnell

 

2MarnellWhen he came ashore at Utah beach a few weeks after the Allied landing at Normandy, he was mistakenly told that his best buddy from Amsterdam Richie Dantini had been killed on D-Day. The news filled him with rage. He spent the next several weeks of the War feeding off that rage to avenge Dantini’s death. And even after he later learned that Dantini had not been killed but instead was seriously wounded, he continued to fight the Germans with a fury few others possessed.

According to an interview with Marnell’s daughter Sandra that appeared in a blog published by Albany, New York’s Times Union Newspaper, her Dad and his crew of South Side buddies had absolutely no idea what they were getting into when they headed into service one after the other in 1942. They were young and naïve but also both confident and brave. Boot camps and training exercises taught them how to follow commands, perform battlefield maneuvers and use their weapons but there was no way to prepare these young men for the horrors and destruction and death they were about to become part of.

Marnell was a soldier in Patton’s Third Army, assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division. After hitting Utah Beach about one-month after D-Day, his elite unit was at the spearhead of Patton’s historic drive to Germany, liberating every French town and city they encountered along the way. Marnell’s most heroic moment occurred just outside of the French city of Metz, which had been heavily fortified by the enemy and was being strenuously defended by the German Army.

With his unit pinned down near the city’s airport by enemy anti-aircraft and machine gun fire, squad leader Marnell crawled by himself along a twenty foot ditch filled with fire, took out the German guns with a grenade and then single handedly captured seven of the enemy soldiers who were defending that position. Not only did his action prevent his own infantry platoon from being decimated by those German guns, it also cleared the attack path that led to the taking of the airport by US troops. During his effort Marnell had been hit in the arms legs and chest with exploding shrapnel.

Per Department of Defense Code, soldiers in the US Army are awarded the Distinguished Service Cross if and only if “their act or acts of heroism are so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.” Richard Marnell was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions outside that Metz airport. He also received his first Purple Heart. Before the fighting was over, he would see action in a total of five major battles and receive two more Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf clusters. The man was a true American Warrior.

He was also Amsterdam’s most decorated War hero and Tech. Sergeant Marnell was given the honor of…

You can read the rest of my story about this Amsterdam war hero in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

 

April 20 – Happy Birthday William H. English

English2.photoThe caption above the accompanying photo that appeared in the September 22, 1944 edition of the Amsterdam Evening Recorder read “Fate Deals Cruel Blow to This Army Officer.” His name was William Howard English. He was a Lieutenant in the Army Air Force during WWII. He flew 50 bombing missions during the war in both Africa and Italy. He had almost been killed on one of those missions, a bombing run to destroy a strategic railroad bridge on the western coast of Italy. Moments after his B-26 Marauder dropped its payload toward that target, shrapnel from a burst of the enemy’s heavy anti-aircraft fire tore through the side of the cockpit and missed English’s head by mere inches.

So he survived that close call and survived the perils he encountered on the 49 other missions he flew against the enemy and then came back to the states where he was reassigned to flight instructor. Then in September of 1944, English was on a training flight over Lovettesfield, VA, when an accident occurred and this young Rug City hero was tragically killed doing what he often told people was something he knew he wanted to do. In fact, according to his Dad at the time of the accident, Lt. English was already planning to continue his career as a pilot after the war.

William J. English was born on April 20, 1917. The family lived at 35 1/2 Lincoln Avenue. His Dad worked in the rug mills and his Mom was a schoolteacher. He graduated from Wilbur Lynch in 1934. He then graduated from Oswego State Teachers College with an industrial arts major but went to work for New York Power & Light. He learned how to fly in the old Civilian Pilot’s Training Corp that used to be operated out of the Schenectady County airport and received his pilot’s license in 1941. He had a sister Margaret who also went overseas in service of her country as a Red Cross volunteer.

 

April 13 – Happy Birthday Ralph DiCaterino

photo-dicat2Ralph and Michalena DiCaterino had ten children, five daughters and five sons. The daughters all got married; one to a Pepe, another to an Ecobelli, another to  a Wright, another to a DiCarlo and another to a Viscusi. All the boys got married too, including Ralph Jr., who was born on this date in 1920. He had gotten a job at GE when the US entered WWII and settled on Albert Street with his young wife Mary and they gave birth to a daughter, Ann Marie. It would only be a matter of time before Ralph himself was called to serve his country. That happened in May of 1944, when he was ordered to report to basic training at Camp Dix, NJ and then infantry training at Camp Croft in South Carolina. He would then come home for a short leave, before shipping out with his unit to France on October 29th…

You can read the rest of my story about this Amsterdam soldier in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

March 15 – Happy Birthday Danny Persico

Danny Persico shown here in 2000, shaking hands with US Navy Secretary, Richard Danzig
Danny Persico shown here in 2000, shaking hands with US Navy Secretary, Richard Danzig

I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to being in really tight spaces. That’s why the story of today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant sends some chills down my spine. Just 17 years old when he left his Broad Street home on the Southside of Amsterdam to join the US Navy, Seaman Donato “Danny” Persico eventually got assigned to the Submarine Service. On May 23, 1939, he found himself off the coast of Portsmouth, Maine on the Submarine USS Squalus, when a main induction valve failed and tons of seawater began pouring into the vessel’s engine room…

You can read the rest of my story about this brave Amsterdam veteran in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.