The above marker memorializing Neil J. Damato and Anthony P. Damato is at a cemetery in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. They were both my wife’s great-uncles on her mother’s side of the family. Both gave their lives four months apart in 1943 and 1944.
Neil J. Damato was born in 1918 in Shenandoah, which is in Schuylkill County.
His initial military service was in the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant in M Company of 157th Regiment in the 45th Infantry Division. He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in Philadelphia on February 4, 1942 for the duration of the war.
In 1943, Captain Neil Damato was the bombardier on a B-17F in in 8th Air Force. Specifically, he was in the 332nd Bomber Squadron of the 94th Bomber Group (Heavy.)
On November 5, 1943, the crew of aircraft 42-31066 took off from Bury St. Edmunds (RAF Station Rougham there was used by the USAAF during the war) in England. The assigned target for the bombing mission was a synthetic oil refinery north-west of Gelsenkirchen, a German city that was a center for oil refinery and coal production. The aircraft was hit and eventually “[w]ent down from 27,000ft under control and exploded from fighter attacks. Crashed into the North Sea 300 yards west off Haamstede on Schouwen Island, Holland, at 1353hrs.” Two members of the crew were captured and the other eight crew members were classified as missing in action until a finding of death was made. Neil Damato’s body was never found.
His decorations included a Purple Heart and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clustrs. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.
Anthony P. Damato was born in 1922 in Shenadoah, Pennsylvania. He delivered the Evening Herald and worked as a truck driver for a local coal dealer. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1942. He completed boot camp and then went to Derry, Ireland. He volunteered for special invasion duty in the North African campaign and was promoted to corporal after meritorious action during the invasion of Arzew, Algeria in November 1942. Starting in March 1943, he spent three months in the United States before sailing for the Pacific theater. He served there with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines, 5th Amphibious Corps. During a fight on Engebi Island (Eniwetok Atoll) in the Marshall Islands he died after throwing himself on a Japanese grenade that had been tossed into the fighting position he shared with fellow Marines. He was originally buried on Kiririan in the Marshall Islands until his body was reinterred at Section A, Grave 334 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
On April 9, 1945, his mother was presented his Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Shenandoah.
From Anthony Damato’s Medal of Honor citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with an assault company of the Second Battalion, Twenty-Second Marines, Fifth Amphibious Corps, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Eniwetok Atoll Marshall Islands, on the night of February 19,-20, 1944. Highly vulnerable to sudden attack by small, fanatical groups of Japanese still at large despite the efficient and determined efforts of our forces to clear the area, Corporal Damato lay with two comrades in a large foxhole in his company’s defense perimeter which had been dangerously thinned by the forced withdrawal of nearly half of the available men. When one of the enemy approached the foxhole undetected and threw in a hand grenade, Corporal Damato desperately groped for it in the darkness. Realizing the imminent peril to all three and fully aware of the consequences of his act, he unhesitatingly flung himself on the grenade and, although instantly killed as his body absorbed the explosion, saved the lives of his two companions. Corporal Damato’s splendid initiative, fearless conduct and valiant sacrifice reflect great upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his comrades.
After the war, in November 1945, the U.S.S. Anthony Damato (DD-871) was launched and later commissioned in 1946. Also after the war, a trophy given to the winner of the Mahanoy-Shenadoah high school football game was named for Anthony Damato and Jerome Szematowicz, who was stationed at Hickam Field and died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The trophy was given to the winner of the game from 1945-1958 and then again since 1995.
American Legion Post 792 in Shenandoah is named for Anthony Damato and on Memorial Day 2012 they dedicated this mural:
Brave men and women who gave their lives like Neil and Anthony Damato are why we are free and able to observe the solemn occasion of Memorial Day in 2014.
Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.
Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.