Tag Archive | "Roseto Pennsylvania"

The Man Who Shot Two Holes in the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Nestled in Northampton County in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania lies the tiny borough of Roseto.  Just six-tenths of a square mile in size, the town was named for the village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy and settled largely by Italians employed at the numerous local slate quarries.  It is here that a story spanning two continents and more than 4,400 miles begins.

 

In August 2012, my son and I, in a quest to trace family roots, visited the town where my Italian immigrant grandparents had settled in the early 1900s.  Upon our arrival, we made our first discovery.  As if guided by the hand of fate, we had arrived just one week before the town would celebrate its centennial!  As we toured the streets of the diminutive hamlet, we were welcomed by the festoon of banners adorning Roseto’s streetlights and utility poles that announced its three days of festivities planned for the following weekend.

 

As we traveled throughout the borough, we spoke with a number of residents – inquiring if they knew of any current residents with the surname Campanaro, my grandmother’s maiden name.  Our travels aroused the curiosity of one of Roseto’s finest, Officer Michael J. Flaherty.  And, when we stopped at the local park and ball field that would be hosting much of the following week’s celebration, he pulled his squad car next to our vehicle and asked if he could be of assistance.  Although he was not familiar with the Campanaro family, he noted the hat I was wearing and asked me if I had served in World War ll.  When I responded affirmatively, he proceeded to tell me a fascinating story, one that would dwarf the first discovery my son and I had made upon our arrival.

 

His story took us back in time to the America of World War II.  At that time, many families supplied more than one son to the conflict, and the Flaherty family was no exception.  Mrs Margaret Flaherty, formerly of Bloomfield NJ, contributed sons Jack – a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, Robert – a Seaman 2nd Class in the U.S. Navy, Joseph – an Army Captain, and Francis (Frank) – a PFC and later Sergeant with the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion that had completed tours of duty in North Africa and Europe.

 

The North African Campaign marked America’s introduction into World War ll.  It was instigated by England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill who argued that, if successful, it would contain German expansion in Europe, block off vital shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, and provide a jumping off point to invade Sicily and Italy.

 

The Campaign pitted renowned Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps against Allied and American forces.  Rommel’s infliction of a smashing defeat on Allied forces in the first battle of Kasserine Pass led to the change in command that resulted in the elevation of Brigadier General George S. Patton, Jr. to resolve the problems.  Under his command, American and Allied forces drove Rommel’s Afrika Korps back through the Kasserine Pass into Tunisia and out of North Africa into Sicily and Italy.

 

As Churchill had predicted, Tunisia became the jumping off point for the invasion of Sicily and the boot of Italy.  The Italian campaign would be a hard fought campaign because of the natural topographical defenses of the country which were used by the German Army to set up lines of defense on the high ground to repel the invading forces.  The battles for Messina, Salerno, San Pietro, Cassino, Anzio, Rome, Arno, North Appenines, and the Po Valley are etched in the blood of the American 5th Army.

 

With the prelude to the Italian Campaign behind us, we now turn our focus to the story of Sergeant Francis Aloysius Flaherty.  With the lessons learned from the North African Campaign, Allied command deployed the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion as rolling artillery supporting Infantry Divisions of the 5th Army.

 

As they approached the town of Pisa, they were greeted with a barrage of German artillery fire.  Sergeant Flaherty saw the enemy was using the Leaning Tower of Pisa as an observation post to direct its artillery fire.  Without hesitation, he ordered the gun crew to seek out and destroy this observation post.  The first round scored a direct hit and was followed by a second direct hit causing the enemy occupying the tower to evacuate the post.  Before they could reload and fire another round into the building, they received a radio message telling them to cease fire at the Tower because of its historic value.  Subsequently, the town was liberated, and the enemy pursued.

 

The Italian Campaign was bitterly fought.  Many Americans still rest where they fell in the process. There is an old Italian saying, “Vedere Napoli e Morire” which translates to, “To See Naples and Die” attesting to the beauty of the country.  Unfortunately, more than 16,000 Americans did just that in liberating that country.

 

With the ending of World War ll came the safe return of our troops to their home and families, many with stories of their tours of duty to tell their friends and families.  Few, however, can tell a story like that of Frank Flaherty.

 

Yet, his story and that of his brothers continued.  Choosing to serve their community, Jack joined the Bloomfield, New Jersey Fire Department where he rose through the ranks to the position of Chief.  Frank followed in Jack’s footsteps rising to Deputy Chief before his retirement.

 

Frank’s son Michael, inspired by his father and uncles, continues the family tradition by protecting and serving the public as a law enforcement officer.  And, in our chance meeting with him on that August afternoon, my son and I were enthralled by a story that represents a little known part of American history.  One wonders what might have happened to an Italian treasure had that third round ever been fired.

 

 

Remembering the Greatest Generation

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To the best of my knowledge, my grandfather Rocco Petruzzelli was born in Italy in 1865.  In 1896, he left his homeland and the village of Castelluccio Valmaggiore near Foggia / Apulia, Italy and set out for America, leaving his son and my father Donato – born a matter of months earlier on October 31, 1895 – with relatives.  Apparently, Rocco’s wife and the mother of Donato, Filomena (nee Schiavone) died during or shortly after childbirth.


Upon arrival in America, my grandfather settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania, an enclave populated primarily by Italian immigrants and named for the village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy.  There, he met and married Giovanna Campanaro and, shortly thereafter, sent word to Italy for his son to join him.


Donato, then age 5, left Castelluccio accompanied by Domenico Rosso, a family friend from the village.  Years later, he told me that when he left home, he was riding on the back of a donkey and that, as he and Domenico departed, the villagers came out to wave goodbye.


They arrived in New York City, America in January 1901.  Anxiously awaiting their arrival, my grandfather somehow missed them as they landed at the dock.  Frantic, he contacted the New York Police, and they searched the entire area to no avail.  The police advised him to return to Roseto where, they reasoned, the person accompanying him would likely go.  Arriving home, Rocco found that his son and friend had preceded him from New York.  Safe and sound in Roseto, a joyous reunion and celebration commenced.


The Petruzzelli family continued to reside and grow in Roseto.  Not a skilled worker, my grandfather worked laborious jobs to eke out a living.  When there was no work available, he would strap a small grinding wheel on his back and seek out opportunities to sharpen knives, scissors, and various types of cutting tools.  Often, the search for work would find him walking to other towns.  One year, he walked all the way to Pittsburgh, a distance of more than 250 miles, sharpening knives and tools to provide for his family.


Nine years later, he moved his family to Philadelphia in an effort to enhance his own employment prospects and the quality of life for his family.  They settled in South Philadelphia residing in a house at 1240 South Iseminger Street.   My grandfather secured a job as a laborer with the Philadelphia Street Department, and in 1912 at the age of 47, proudly became a Naturalized Citizen of the United States of America.   At the time, his wife Giovanna (Joanne) was 14 years his junior, and they lived with their five children – Donato age 17, Filomena 8, Lucia 5, Jane 3, and Nicholas 1.


A few short years later, they purchased a home in the 1100 Block of Cross Street that would be our extended family’s gathering place in the years to follow and their residence for the remainder of my grandparents’ lives.  Here, they had two more sons, Biagio (Bill) and Rocco Jr., bringing the family total to 7 children.  When the United States entered World War l, my father Donato left this home, enlisted in the United States Navy, and served until he was Honorably Discharged on September 3, 1919.


In 1942, my grandmother Giovanna passed away only to be followed a few short months later by my grandfather Rocco.  Both were laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.  At the times of their deaths, the winds of war were fanning the flames of World War II in Europe and the Pacific.  Ultimately, three of their sons, Nicholas, Biagio, and Rocco Jr., as well as their grandson, Thomas, would all make contributions to America’s war effort.


Today at age 83, I am the oldest living member of the Petruzzelli family and filled with fond memories.  I recall a trip to Roseto with my grandparents at the age of 8.  We spent a week visiting my grandmother’s relatives.  As a city boy, I found it a wonderful experience seeing how they lived in the country.  They raised chickens and had vegetable gardens and grape arbors that stretched from the chicken coops to the house.  They even had a goat that produced milk.  Offered a glass of it, I found it strange drinking warm milk, and everyone had a good laugh at the look on my face as I drank it.


At every opportunity, I try to instill in my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren their Italian heritage in hopes that they will know about their cultural roots when I am gone.  As I reflect on my own life, I realize that my most enjoyable times were spent in the company of family and friends.


Tom Brokaw, a well-known journalist and news anchorperson on NBC, wrote a book entitled The Greatest Generation.  It was the story of the generation of Americans who lived through The Great Depression and then fought and won World War ll.  And, I am very proud at being numbered among that group.


Yet, Tom Brokaw never met men like my grandfather and all the other Western European immigrants who left their homelands to come to America seeking a new and better life for themselves and their families, many arriving with just the clothes on their backs.  In my estimation, it is they who are worthy of the designation as “The Greatest Generation.”


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