Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Remembering – and honoring – Peekskill’s military veterans

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“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”Winston Churchill,  Speech in the House of Commons

This Saturday at 10 a.m., the members of the Captain Oliver C. Chase Jr. Post 274 of the American Legion will once again host Peekskill’s annual ceremony to honor those who served in the United States Armed Forces.

Veteran’s Day ceremony last year at Monument Park.

Each year, on Veterans Day, we gather at Monument Park to spend an hour thanking the men and women of Peekskill who gave years of their lives, in places far from home, to answer the call of duty.

Anyone with a family member who served knows the commitment and devotion that military life demands. The Peekskill community of families has a rich tradition in the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Air Force. The names of those who served in the World Wars, in Korea, in Vietnam, back even to the Revolution and the Civil War, comprise a roll call of Peekskill’s history.

Jack Burns, Fred Bianco, Ralph Nardone, Charles Heady Jr., William Carbone, John Santangelo, Al Donahue, Father Arthur Leo, Oliver Chase Sr., Leonard Varella Sr., Patrick Donohue, Frank Pugliese – all of them – and hundreds and hundreds of others – left Peekskill, served the nation, and returned to help to build the Peekskill community for future generations.

Remembering the sacrifice they made

When we give thanks for their service, it’s right to remember them and their heroic contributions. Corporal Thomas McElroy, for one. Badly hurt twice in the Normandy invasion but continued to fight with the 82nd Airborne. And Staff Sgt, Melvin Morris, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

Ettore Panzanaro Jr., a Navy sailor and crew member of a landing ship at the Normandy invasion. Ensign Michael Mazzocco, who’s family lived at 526 Washington St., was in the group of fighter pilots in the first raids over Tokyo, shooting down five Zero Japanese planes.

There was Edward Gibbs, a long-time Peekskill political leader – wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. And Pete Keenan, who came home from the war and worked for more than 40 years at Saint Joseph’s home. Keenan fought through many battles in the Pacific and survived a Japanese suicide attack in Okinawa. And Pfc. Lewis Haight, awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star as part of the D-Day Normandy invasion force.

The roll call of heroes from Peekskill goes on and on – Bob Boddie, Dr. John McGurty Sr. and Dr. McGurty Jr., Father Boyle from the Assumption Church, Jack Buhs, Sam D’Onofrio, and Oliver Chase Jr. – awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic service and devotion, killed in action in Vietnam while saving troops and an entire village during combat.

And there’s the two William Dorseys, cousins, both killed in action in Vietnam. Peekskill native William T. was an Army medic who drowned after pulling several soldiers to shore when a Uboat exploded and William B. died in 1966, he was a native of Yonkers.  They were both grandsons of J.J. Dorsey.

Too many names, too many men and women to recall in one day at Monument Park, but their service and their memory can never be forgotten.

A Peekskill family’s record of service

Veterans Day in Peekskill means something more than just a calendar note to my family. There’s nothing particularly special about the Roberts family and service, but we are unique – that’s for certain. For one thing, there has been a lot of us.

My father Jim was one of thirteen children raised by John and Elizabeth (Harbolic) Roberts during the Great Depression in a smallish walk-up, second floor apartment on Central Avenue along a stretch where the Police Headquarters now sits.

He joined the Army-Air Corps after graduating from Peekskill High. Retiring after 28 years of service, he and my mother Margaret returned to Peekskill where he then became Deacon Roberts and served at the Assumption Church for 25 years.

My father was one of the Roberts brothers who served both the military and then played a role in the Peekskill community, just as so many other Peekskill families have.

Six of the brothers served in World War II. When their father died in mid-December of 1943, his obituary in the Evening Star reported “Father of Six Soldiers Dies” and listed their locations: Anthony (Pants), at Seattle; Charles, at Waycross, Ga.; Henry (Moon), in Mississippi; Stanley, at Shreveport, La.; Albert (Oley), in California and Edward, somewhere in the Southwest Pacific.

By then Eddie was already fighting in the Pacific – the other five left their stateside training bases and fought throughout Europe.

Again, like many Peekskill families, my uncles were soldiers who served their country when called upon. They undoubtedly experienced the horrors of war and suffered. Pants was wounded and carried a piece of shrapnel in his arm for the rest of his life. Oley was captured and became a Nazi POW, and Moon was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic action in combat.

Headstone of Charley Roberts in the Brittany American Cemetery in St.James France where 4409 American soldiers are buried and 499 missing in action.

In a record of his war experiences, Moon wrote “On Jan. 25th a count of men was taken to determine our casualties. ‘A’ Company – 120 men, ‘B’ Company – 80 men – ‘C’ Company – 120 men, and our company’s M-9 platoons were at less than half-strength.

“That meant that in 24 days of combat we suffered approximately 320 casualties. And the worst was yet to come,” Moon wrote.

June 7, 1945
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”General George S. Patton in a speech at the Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston

And also like many families, there was devastating loss. My Uncle Charlie, who they called “Runt,” was the funniest of them all. Charley is remembered by John Donohue, himself a veteran of the Korean War, who grew up with the Roberts family on Central Avenue.

“Charley really mixed with all kinds of people. He was the nicest guy ever. I was younger, so he went out of his way to look after me, telling me to be careful, you don’t need the police to be looking for you,” Donohue said.

The letter from Uncle Charley

My cousin Bill kept a letter that Uncle Charley wrote to him when Bill was five years old. “Sunday, April 2, 1944, Somewhere in England,” the letter is headed.

“England is a very pretty place and there are lots of very nice places to see over here,” Uncle Charley wrote. “Good luck and the best of health to you all,” he concluded, signing off with “Always. Your Uncle Charley.” Four months later he was killed in the war, somewhere in France.

My Uncle John, the oldest brother, was a plant manager at General Motors in Tarrytown for many years. The plant converted over to making tanks during the war. My Uncle Francis (Shorty) served in Korea and came back to raise his family and worked for many years as a union laborer. And Pants devoted 30 years to running Peekskill’s Rec League baseball program, teaching hundreds of kids how to work together as a team and love the sport.

Moon worked for decades at the VA in Montrose and was the treasurer for the Peekskill Seniors for decades, hosting the group’s annual Flag Day ceremony. Oley was a long-time state DOT worker and established Oley and Chuck’s Rainbow Bar & Grill on Central Avenue with his son. The bar will celebrate its 50th anniversary next May. Stanley and his wife Anne raised their three children in Peekskill.

Moon Roberts in uniform and his mother on the far left holding a baby.

Charley, the brother who never came home, rests at the Brittany American Cemetery in Saint James, France. My cousin Jeffrey visited the site and took a photo of the marker that remembers Charley forever.

Charles Roberts is one of the 48 sons of Peekskill who fought their nation’s battles in World War II and paid the ultimate price. Veterans who didn’t flinch when called upon, they need to be remembered by Peekskill. Their names are carved in stone at Monument Park, and their sacrifice will always be remembered, by the family members and friends who loved them most.

 

The 48 Servicemen from Peekskill killed in WWII

Bertram Archer Jr. Saul Gerlich    Thomas A. Salerno

John J. Astrab Theodore Grouez    Anthony Scaramellino

John J. Berta   Vincent E. Hiland   George F. Simon Jr.

Russell A. Beskin Loftus J. Hoffman Raymond Smalheiser

Thomas A. Boyle David J. Kiley   George F. Simon Jr.

Lester Conklin Jr. Richard W. Lent Raymond Smalheiser

John W. Cox   Donald McCrae      Fred P. Smith

Shelton Craddock Thomas J. McGee     Frank Snyder

Harold A. Cruger Franklin C. Miller George W. Squires Jr.

Paul A. Dardis        George A. Miller Jr.       William Stern

Royal O. Dietz       Charles F. Minor    Paul Tepper

George A. Eaterlein Charles Neidhardt James J. Timko

Lee S. Ferris Frederick J. Neidhardt Barnard K. Timm Jr.

John W. Fisher Jr. Alfred J. Rasmus William P. Milletto

Steven J. Furman    Edward J. Rehak    Joseph J. Williams

Everett E. Geothe   Charles J. Roberts   Aaron W. Wyott Jr.

 

 

About the Contributor
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.