One by one, their names were read Friday in alphabetical order.
Daniel R. Diecedo. Joseph Dispenza. William Dolce.
The 168 World War II veterans stood to be recognized, or waved from their seats, or had a family member stand for them.
A local or state elected official brought each one a “Certificate of Recognition” with the inscription, “In appreciation for your dedication and sacrifice for our country during World War II.”
Each veteran had his or her own story of service to tell.
For Dolce, it was his role in the Allied invasion of southern France on Aug. 15, 1944, as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 in the 98th division of the 7th Army.
“It was brutal,” said Dolce, 94. “You know, when you’re in an invasion with thousands of ships, troops coming from all directions.”
On his green Army service uniform was a French Legion of Honor medal given to him 60 years after the invasion. Accompanied by Angela, his wife of 70 years, Dolce sat front row Friday at Kenney Field for a ceremony honoring resident town veterans of that war. She waited three years for his return and saved the 200 letters he sent home.
“Every time I would hear about an invasion, it just took your heart away,” she said.
Fewer than 1.4 million World War II veterans are living today, according to November 2012 estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Among them is William Dibble, 91, who served in the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Army Division. He spent 21 months in a German prisoner-of-war camp after being captured during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943.
“We had to work from 7 in the morning to 7:30 at night, six days a week and in all kinds of weather,” he said.
Larry Fama, 88, enlisted in the Navy at age 17 while attending Grover Cleveland High School. His ship, the destroyer USS Matagorda, was responsible for keeping enemy submarines out of the Strait of Gibraltar, which leads to the Mediterranean Sea. As a radio man 2nd class, Fama decoded messages from Washington regarding the whereabouts of enemy subs and mines. He delivered the messages to the ship’s captain. His ship picked up 67 survivors from a supplies transport that had been attacked.
“Our ship had orders to go pick up the survivors, and we were told to wait until we had another ship because you have to have two ships – one picking up the survivors and the other watching for that submarine that’s still hanging around,” Fama said.
Fama’s daughter, Nancyann Harrod, flew in from her home in Sanibel, Fla., for Friday’s event and her parents’ 65th wedding anniversary.
“My father’s always been proud of his service,” she said. “There are some gentlemen who served in the war that never really liked to talk about it, but my father has been one who’s always been very proud of what he was able to do for his country.”
The town’s Department of Youth, Parks and Recreation organized the event, which was followed by a performance of the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas and a fireworks display.
Monsignor Dino Lorenzetti, a World War II veteran, gave the benediction and invocation.
The event was special for Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana, a retired brigadier general in the Army Reserve. His late father was wounded in World War II, and his four uncles all served.
“They are the ‘Greatest Generation,’ ” said Caruana, who often quoted from Tom Brokaw’s book of that name during his address. “They built this town, and we’re very proud of that.”
The town invited its World War II veterans by mail, which was how John DeMeo Jr. learned of the event.
DeMeo, 86, served as a cook on the destroyer USS McCaffery after enlisting in the Navy while attending Buffalo Technical High School. His tour took him throughout the Pacific Theater of the war, including Hawaii and Okinawa. He was joined by his family, including his wife of 64 years, Jean, two daughters, a son and grandchildren.
“I think it’s important for his grandchildren to realize when they study World War II that their grandfather was part of it,” said DeMeo’s daughter, Philine DeMeo-Mack.