WWII vet keeps memory alive

By KATIE HOOS

Tony received the World War II Victory Medal, Army Good Conduct medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Battle Stars for his service.

Tony received the World War II Victory Medal, Army Good Conduct medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Battle Stars for his service.

When recounting his military service during World War II, one date in particular weighs heavily on Tony Marsella’s memory, May 26, 1944, the day his older brother, John Marsella, was killed in action.

The Mamaroneck brothers were drafted into the United States Army on the same day, joining the global fight to stop the Axis Powers from taking over the world.

Both John and Tony Marsella were sent to Italy to fight.

Only one returned home.

Only one would go on to get married, start a family and have a successful career.

Only one would have the opportunity to give back to the community he has called home his entire life.

Now, more than 70 years after his brother’s death, Tony—who was recently inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame in Albany for his honorable service—stands as a pillar of patriotism.

While working to preserve the memory of his beloved brother and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice overseas, Tony represents a generation that is slowly vanishing with the passage of time.

A generation of which Tony, his brother and hundreds of thousands of other young American soldiers were a part.

And a generation that Tony tries to make sure will not be forgotten.

Born on May 20, 1924, as the second of four children to Italian-immigrant parents, Tony Marsella grew up in a modest house on Grand Street in the Village of Mamaroneck, the same place he calls home today. He graduated from

Mamaroneck High School in June 1942 and briefly held a job at Rex Products Corporation, a company based in New Rochelle that manufactured buttons for military uniforms, before being drafted on Jan. 25, 1943, alongside his brother.

By the time the Marsella brothers were drafted, the United States had been involved in the war for just over one year. After officially declaring war against Japan following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the U.S. joined the Allied forces—a group of countries including Great Britain, France and Russia—and began sending troops to Europe, Asia and Africa.

Tony holds his brother John Marsella’s Purple Heart, which is a source of pride for the World War II veteran.

Tony holds his brother John Marsella’s Purple Heart, which is a source of pride for the World War II veteran.

To prepare for the war before heading overseas, Tony and John were sent to basic training at different camps. Tony went to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and John to Fort Hood in Texas.

While at Fort Bragg, Tony, who was just 18 years old at the time, saw a sign he said changed his life.

“I saw a notice on a bulletin board that said if you could speak and write Italian, put your name down on this list. So, I did,” he said. “And of all the tens of thousands of troops in Fort Bragg, they picked me to go into a special company of Italian Americans.”

The job was as an Italian interpreter and stenographer and Tony, who was fluent in Italian, was sent to special training at Camp Shenango in Pennsylvania to brush up on his skills.

“My knowledge of typing and shorthand saved my life,” Tony said. “The old company I was in wound up as replacements and went overseas. I don’t know whether they came back or not.”

While at Camp Shenango, Tony learned that his brother was at the same camp.

“I looked around and in less than an hour I tracked him down. There we were, in barracks just across the street from one another,” he said, recalling the brothers’ short time together in training. “But he shipped out first. That was the last that I saw him.”

Tony Marsella, 90, holds a painting of his older brother John, himself and his younger brother Gaetano, who all served in the United States Army during WWII. Photos/Katie Hoos

Tony Marsella, 90, holds a painting of his older brother John, himself and his younger brother Gaetano, who all served in the United States Army during WWII. Photos/Katie Hoos

Tony was assigned to the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, a group of around 180 men that acted as a temporary government set up by the Allies in territories that were liberated from Nazi occupation. He was sent to Northern Africa for a few months in late 1943 and then stationed in Sicily, where he was intercepting and interpreting Axis messages two miles from the Italian coast.

In spring 1944, Tony and his unit moved to Via Reggio, a small village north of Rome.

He was only 40 miles north of where his brother John would be killed during the American invasion of Anzio Beach that May.

According to Tony, John’s tank was struck by German artillery while landing on the beach. He died May 26, 1944, alongside the other soldiers in his infantry unit.

“For Mothers Day 1944, my brother sent my mother a bouquet of roses through the mail. The day after that, she got the news that [he] was dead,” Tony said.

Not knowing what had happened to John, Tony continued to write him every few days, until, through the mail, he found out his brother’s fate.

“All at once I get a package back from the postal service; a bunch of letters I wrote to my brother tied with a string with the inscription K.I.A, killed in action,” Tony said. “That was the first that I knew that my brother was gone.”

After hearing his brother was killed, Tony received six days leave and traveled to his parents’ hometown of Roccasecca, Italy, where he visited relatives and mourned his brother.

Tony returned home to the States in September 1945 and was discharged from the Army on Oct. 25, 1945, in Fort Dix, N.J.

The day after his return, Tony met Josephine, who would become his wife of 66 years, and got a job at Fort Slocum in New Rochelle, where he worked for four months as the secretary to a chaplain.

“That’s where my shorthand in typing came in handy,” Tony said.

He landed a job with the parks department for the Village of Mamaroneck and eventually was offered the opportunity to work at Playland Park in Rye as supervisor of the gardens, where he worked until his retirement in 1986.

After his retirement, Tony dedicated his life to giving back to the Mamaroneck community and honoring the men who lost their lives fighting the battle he survived; the battle his brother did not.

In 2006, Tony and a group of Mamaroneck residents rallied to save Richard M. Kemper Memorial Park—parkland behind Mamaroneck High School that hosts a monument displaying the names of more than 100 Larchmont and Mamaroneck residents who have died in service to the nation, including John Marsella—after the Mamaroneck School District proposed to use a portion of the park for a sports field.

“I was the voice of all the families,” Tony said of his work to preserve the park. “And when I spoke, the school board listened.”

Believing in the importance of volunteerism and community service, Tony remains an active member in several community groups and organizations.

Tony is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars David Potts Post 1156 in Larchmont, where he was the Post Commander from 2007 to 2008. He also leads the post’s annual poppy flower sale on Memorial Day.

Commemorating Tony’s dedication to the community and his military service to this country, state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, nominated Tony to be inducted into the New York State Senate’s Veterans’ Hall of Fame. Tony was honored in Albany on May 20, coinciding with his 90th birthday, and celebrated back home with a small gathering of friends and family on May 25 at the VFW post in Larchmont.

“I was just being myself and all of this came out of it,” Tony said regarding his nomination to the Hall of Fame. “All this came about unexpectedly because it was a continuation of what I always do.”

For his time in the service, Tony received three awards, including the World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Battle Stars and the Army Good Conduct medal because, according to Tony, he “never got caught chasing those Italian girls.”

But the award Tony is most proud of, the medal closest to his heart, is the Purple Heart his brother John received posthumously for his service in World War II.

Taking the medal out of the desk drawer where it remains even today for safekeeping inside his Mamaroneck home, Tony holds it with great care and speaks fondly of his older brother, who died decades ago.

“I think he would’ve been proud of me.”

CONTACT: katie@hometwn.com