Third Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines 3rd Marine division
Island fighting included Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Marshall, Ulithi, Guam and Truk Islands
Duties included operating the B.A.R.: Browning Automatic Rifle
Husband to Bert; father to 5 children; grandfather to 13 grandchildren; great-grandfather to 2 great-grandchildren
Resides at 731 Washington Ave., Dunkirk
At 18 years of age and our country at war, Lenny decided to do his duty and serve his country in its time of need.
Lenny, wanting to join and be the best, decided to become a United States Marine. After his graduation from Dunkirk High School in the summer of 1943, Lenny joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Going into the United States Marine Corps would bring many changes for Lenny. The only job he really held was being in charge of the local playgrounds in the Dunkirk School District and doing odd jobs around Dunkirk, but being voted as most athletic in his senior class and earning 12 varsity letters, Len felt the following 12 weeks at Parris Island, S.C. were within his reach.
Lenny left Dunkirk by train at the Dunkirk train station on Main Street's upper level. He proceeded via Buffalo to Parris Island. After completing his basic training, Lenny was sent to Camp Lejeune for the Infantry Training Regiment (ITR) where Lenny learned the basic weapons used by United States Marines at that time - the M1 rifle, hand grenades, flame throwers, machine guns - and even had his tour in the famous Marine Corps gas chamber.
Most combat marines were required to go in while the chamber was loaded with gas fumes; you then took off your mask and sang the Marine Corps hymm. After the hymm was sung you then could leave the chamber.
During his training at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps decided that Lenny excelled in handling the Marine Corps B.A.R. rifle (the Browining automatic rifle). The B.A.R. during World War II was the 1918 Browing automatic rifle version. It was considered a lightweight machine gun that fired a 30.06 cartridge at the rate of 500 to 600 rounds a minute. It was designed to be used by advancing infantry marines and was necessary for trench warfare.
It was considered a light weapon for its firepower, coming in at a little over 20 pounds, but living, sleeping and even going to relieve himself, this weapon never left Lenny's side. Walking through the island's jungles with the temps in the high 90s daily made this light weapon seem like a ton.
During the island fighting, Lenny remembered how skilled and professional the Japanese soldiers were, always knowing they could strike at any time they wished. He remembered one night of island fighting where they needed to cross an open field to secure the high ground. After advancing to their destination and feeling safe that they held the high ground, later that night the Japanese soldiers got up and almost had the marines company surrounded.
Being somewhat confused on how all this happened, the next morning revealed that the Japanese soldiers had actually buried themselves in mini shallow graves in the areas they knew the marines were going to take advance. Nights like that stay with you forever.
Lenny got through his island fighting without being wounded. He considered himself very lucky seeing he had been on many a first or second wave landings. He did come down with malaria and was forced to be hospitalized. This laid him up for over three months; a problem he still has trouble with today.
When asked about some funny things he remembered about the island fighting days, Lenny said he remembered when he was on Truk Island (Truk Island sounding like Truck Island) cleaning up and securing the island for U.S. airstrips knowing all mail going out was censored and wanting to let his parents know where he was. He wrote and asked his dad "How is your new truck?" Knowing his dad didn't have a truck and he could put two and two together knowing American Marines were on Truk Island. Lenny received a letter from his dad stating that he has no truck, what are you talking about my son?
Another thing he remembered was Lenny, at the time being single, mailed the majority of his pay home to his mother knowing things were bad at home and his mom needed it. Considering all his military pay was spent for his parents to live on and gone, he received a welcome return home - his mom had put every penny of it into the bank and gave it all back.
After the war and his obligations to the Marine Corps, Lenny came back and went from mastering the B.A.R. to landing a job running the area's ice skating ponds which turned into his permanent job of 42 years as head custodian at the Dunkirk School District. He married the former Alberta Szablewski and celebrated their 64th year of marriage this past June 14. Lenny and Bert had five children from which 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren came. Lenny, known as "Big Lou," has volunteered for so many organizations that listing them would take another page.
His dedication to the city, his neighbors and friends is unlimited. When it comes to our veterans, Lenny stands out. Our freedoms we own today are from the Lenny Catalanos. While I was going through his military life, his mind was on trying to get money for the area veterans colorguard to purchase new rifles because the ones they are using now are 60 years old and misfire and that was more important to Lenny than his story. Truly a dedicated veteran.
If you seen Lenny walking down the street, say "Hi" and thank him for his service. Lenny Catalano truly is one of our local heroes.
Many of Lenny's military items are on display at the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum located on the second floor in the Marine Corps room. Along with Lenny's items, you can also view many of our local heroes' items that are also featured.