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“We are their heirs”

Tom Mountain writes a timely and poignant column in honor of Memorial Day on the losses of the citizens of Newton, Massachusetts in World War II. It is a column that provides needed perspective and renders appropriate honor:

When Fred Guzzi, head of Newton Veterans’ Services, faxed me six pages full of names, I immediately called to remind him that I requested the list of soldiers from Newton who died in World War II, not the list of everyone from Newton who served. The list that he sent had too many pages, too many names. Surely one faxed page would suffice. He quickly retorted that all six pages contained the names of all the men from Newton who died in World War II — 269 of them.

By any measure, 269 men killed in war from a city the size of Newton is an enormous, heart-wrenching number. That’s well over 500 mothers and fathers who received the fateful telegram informing them that their sons had been killed in wartime. No corner of Newton was spared the tragedy of the Second World War. Every neighborhood, every block, every school, suffered the loss of someone who was killed overseas. To this day there are those among us who remember all too well.

Alderman Carleton Merrill remembers Lester Bixby, his friend from Newton High, Class of 1943, who was killed in combat in France in December 1944, and Stephan Butts, with whom he attended the Underwood School, who was killed on the India-Burma Front in February 1945. Then there was Milton Elkind, who lived across the street, killed in France that same year. And Bill Spiers, his classmate who died in the retaking of Guam in 1944.

The average age of these Newton soldiers was 24 when they were killed. George Gallagher was only 17 and John Gentile 19 when they were killed (along with the five Sullivan brothers) on board the cruiser Juneau, which was torpedoed in the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. The oldest killed was Daniel Hurley, also a veteran of World War I. He enlisted as a medic and died in Germany in 1945, one month shy of his 64th birthday. Annino Coletti was 23 when he was killed in fighting in the Marshall Islands.

Harry Homans of Tremont Street and John Mastopiera of Chestnut Street were both killed on Iwo Jima on the same day, Feb.19, 1945. So were Peter Bontempo and William F. Callahan Jr, both killed in northern Italy on April 14, 1945. Bontempo Road in Oak Hill Park is named for Peter. The Callahan Tunnel is named for William.

Charles Brown and Robert Stein lived in the same two-family house on Edinboro Street. Charles died in a Japanese prison camp in the Dutch East Indies in 1942. Robert was killed shortly after D-Day, on June 8, 1944, in Normandy. Francis Shuster Jr. and William Golding Jr. were next-door neighbors on Fairway Drive in West Newton. They were both killed at age 24.

Governor (and later Senator) Leverett Saltonstall of Chestnut Hill Road lost his son, Peter Saltonstall, at Saipan in the Pacific in August 1944. Endicott Peabody, who later became governor, lost his brother, Arthur Peabody, killed near Vienna, Austria, in February 1945. Gene Cronin, the unofficial “Mayor of West Newton” and a World War II veteran himself, lost his brother, John Cronin, on the Meuse River in Belgium in 1945.

In 1944, 112 Newton soldiers were killed, 20 in December alone.

Fourteen Newton soldiers were killed in the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 and early 1945, including James Foley and Salvatore Yeradi. Eleven were killed on D-Day, June 6, 1944, or in the subsequent Battle of Normandy, including Julius Amendola and George O’Brien. Ten died — or rather, were murdered — in POW camps, including William Cannon, Fred Timson Jr. and Francis Cronin. A note was found on William Osborne which read “Poisoned by Japs.” Ted Ladd was beheaded by the Japanese while in captivity.

Newton soldiers fought and died all over the globe. Stanton Amesbury was killed in Algeria by Vichy French soldiers in November 1942. Matthew Billings died of his wounds off Kiska, Alaska, in 1943. Edgar Bevis was shot down over Taiwan in 1945. Carl Cole crash-landed and died in Denmark. Harvey Cibel was killed by Rommel’s soldiers in Tunisia in 1943. Albert Desrochers was killed near Australia. Melvin Herson was killed in a bombing raid over Romania in 1944. Charles Spettel was shot down over Yugoslavia in February 1945. Paul Van Wart and Stephan Silverman were both shot down over China in 1944. Dominic Silverstrone and Howard Stiles were killed in New Guinea; their bodies were never found. John Newman Jr. perished on a life raft after his ship was sunk by a German U-Boat off Iceland.

Many of those killed had streets named after them in Oak Hill Park, including Paul Cavanaugh, Francis Fredette, Frank McCarthy, Meinoff Kappius, Joe Antonellis, John Caulfield, H. Russell Keller Jr., George Avery, Nick Tocci, Albert Caldon, Russell Colella, John O’ Rourke, Frank Young, Robert Shumaker, William Kerr, Hugh Van Roosen, George Walsh, Fred O’Connell, Bill Nightingale, Larry Early and Robert Hanson, who was also posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for having shot down 26 enemy aircraft in the South Pacific.

Victor Pellegrini of Lincoln Road was killed on Christmas 1944, when his troop carrier was torpedoed in the English Channel. Ed DeStefano, also of Lincoln Road,was killed the month before, just over the German border. Nam Leong of West Newton was killed in action in Italy in January 1944. So was George Pattison of Newtonville. John Murphy was killed aboard the USS Quincy in the Battle of Savoa Island in 1942. Robert Murphy was also killed in the South Pacific two years later; his father requested that he be buried in the American Cemetery in Manila.

Sixty soldiers from Newton were Missing in Action, and subsequently declared dead, their bodies never having been recovered. Among them were Charles Bjornson, killed when his submarine, the USS Lagarto, was sunk off French Indochina (Vietnam); Charles Burkett Jr., killed when his plane was shot down near the Bonin Islands; George Carson, killed on Okinawa; Paul Coburn, killed when his plane crashed in the Pacific. Also MIA were Fred Elliot Jr., Dominic Giannetti, Robert Hale, John Hennessey, Fred Horgan, Ted Jennings, Ted Johnson, Jim Lally, Carl Lancaster, Bill Lewitt, Lenny Nodell, Clarence Powell and Antonio Palumbo.

Carl Peterson, commander of the US Coast Guard Escanaba, perished with his crew in the North Atlantic after his ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Alfred Pezzella bailed out over Romania in 1944 and was never found. Richard Waite, a medic, was 20 years old when he was killed in Normandy, “his body was burned beyond recognition,” official reports stated, and his burial place is still unknown. Robert Williamson was shot down off the coast of China in 1945, and disappeared forever.

George Guise was killed in Czechoslovakia on May 9, 1945, one day after the final German surrender.

There are more men, many more from Newton who were killed somewhere in the globe during the Second World War. I have barely mentioned a third. Perhaps a book would do them all some justice, much more than a brief column can possibly provide. For they deserve more. Infinitely more. Some of these men were comparatively lucky. They were married before the war. They had children. They lived a portion of their adult lives. But most never married, never had children, never lived a life beyond their post-adolescent years. Their bodies were interred by their parents, if they came home at all.

The United States paid an unbearable price in World War II — 418,500 American soldiers dead. A generation decimated. And with that hundreds of thousands of children we would never know.

But millions of children we would know.

For it was these soldiers who made our future, our nation, our very lives, possible. Without their supreme sacrifice, it is doubtful that many of us would be here today.

We are their heirs.

We are their children.

Via reader Anil Adyanthaya.

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