The day came and Michael J. Sammartino was officially property of the U.S. Army. After packing his suitcase and saying all his goodbyes, Michael headed to his front door.
Before leaving his home, a home that Michael knew after this war he would return to some day, he extended his hands out to his 9-year-old sister Frances to say goodbye.
Frances had no idea of what a war was but in her mind knew something was different about this hug and kiss. With our country at war, it was common for families to send their loved ones away to do their duty, and it happened to most families on the street. Most children in Frances' class had some family member doing their duty around the world.
As mail arrived, Frances would hear her mother read about her brother Michael being at boot camp at Fort McCelland in Alabama, a place where Michael was receiving his basic training. As the weeks passed and now living in a home where both brothers were gone, a big smile appeared on Frances' face when the door opened and in front of the door stood big brother Michael all dressed up in his new Army uniform. Her big brother was now home. His orders read 30-day leave, orders that later we found had Michael headed for north Africa.
The 30-day leave flew by so fast. Michael again had to go to the front door and say goodbye, but this time it would be his last steps on his porch.
As the war moved on, the Sammartino family started to receive letters from both sons. Frances recalled one letter where Michael sent money he had won to buy his mother a fur coat and a dozen roses for Mother's Day. A picture of Mike's mother was taken of her with her new fur coat and holding the roses. All were excited to send the picture to Michael, but all that excitement ceased when a telegram came with the following message: Pvt. Michael J. Sammartino, U.S. Army, was wounded in action. Two more days passed and another telegram arrived stating Michael was now missing in action, which then was followed by a third and final telegram stating that Michael Sammartino, U.S. Army, is now officially listed as killed in action at Anzio.
Michael never did receive the picture of his mother with the coat and roses. Michael's mother became ill, and the illness continued. As the days passed, she showed no signs of getting better. It was best not to let her know that Michael never got to see the photos of her with the gifts he wanted his mother to have.
With brother Joseph in France, the Sammartino family tried for a year to get Joseph home. Time dragged but Joseph finally got discharged. Joseph was on his way home when the war finally came to an end, and three days later Michael's mother, Angeline, passed away. Brother Joseph, being discharged, was en route back to Dunkirk.
When he arrived from the war, he came to see his mother laid out at Newman Funeral Home. A mother who sent two sons to war, a war that she saw one lost at 18 years of age and another serving in France. It took its toll on this lady who passed away at the age of 44.
Along with the loss of his son, Michael's uncle also lost his son Frank Sammartino from Dunkirk in the Normandy invasion. Two brothers lost sons to a war within an eight-week period. Five years later, Frances lost her father.
Frances, then 9 years old, still remembers her brothers going off to war only to see one return to her mother lying in a casket. As time passed, Frances always felt that something in her life was missing. No day would pass without thinking about her brother Michael at least one or more times, sad with feelings knowing he was buried in a far away cemetery. It bothered her that he was there all alone. She felt that someday she needed to kneel at Michael's grave.
Going back in time, she could recall the discussions at home about bringing Michael's remains home and having them buried here in town where he came into this world. With Michael's mother being frail and each day worse as time was passing, the family's doctor couldn't say if she would be able to go through the events of bringing the body home and having the burial ceremony. Another aspect was he was first listed as missing in action. Without the scientific research we have today to know the certainty of the remains, Michael's father made the final decision on the issue: to let his son Michael rest in peace. Tom Sammartino did his best to raise the two daughters Ann and Frances he had left at home. He passed away on Dec. 11, 1951.
Frances married William G. Sayers and raised five sons Robert, Michael, Kenneth, Thomas and William Jr. It was 61 years ago, and often she would talk about her brothers to her sons. She wanted them to know what they did and the price that one family paid in a war. She would always talk about going to see Michael's grave site. All she knew is that he was buried somewhere in Italy. All she could remember was Rome Sicily, Italy cemetery. Her son William one day, while on the computer found that Michael was buried in Rome, Italy. As he surfed the internet, he found more information on his gravesite. Once he started to ask questions, the internet started pouring out all kinds of information.
One morning Frances received a phone call from the Embassy in Rome, Italy. The caller said a letter came across his desk about her brother Michael Sammartino. He then sent her a letter about the gravesite and a photo of Michael's gravesite. Later another phone call from a Lt. Col. Ron Grosso stated that on May 26, 1997, a memorial service would be held at the cemetery, and it would be nice if she could find a way to attend.
The wheels began to turn. Frances' son Kenneth arranged a flight and accompanied his mother to Italy. Her husband and sons all helped with the trip to pay for the flight, room and expenses. Lt. Col. Gary de Jesus arranged to find a hotel in a good, close area and actually checked in with the two each day to see that they were OK and if they needed anything. On the morning of the ceremony, Lt. Col. Grosso sent an official car to pick them up at the hotel and transport them to the ceremony at the Sicily-Rome Cemetery. The Sammartino family received a gold-engraved invitation along with front row seats for the ceremony. All this was done with the request from the Italian Ambassador of the United States Reginald Bartholomew. Frances claimed the family was given a V.I.P. treatment. During the ceremony when the name Michael Sammartino came up, the ambassador also included Frances and Kenneth's name and the fact that they had travelled all the way from Michael's hometown of Dunkirk.
Frances claims it was a memorable experience that in her lifetime she will never forget. Leaving the grave site of this Dunkirk hero, Frances in her mind felt that her older brother Michael was in a beautiful place with the rest of his comrades. Since her visit, she and her two sisters, Ann and Mary make a monetary donation to have flowers planted at their brother's grave site. In return the cemetery sends the family a photo of his grave site.
Michael Sammartino was a young Dunkirk soldier who before his 18th year had given his life for his country. His family received a letter which read as follows:
"My dear Mr. and Mrs. Sammartino,
"At the request of the President of the United States, I write to inform you that the purple heart has been awarded posthumously to your son Michael J. Sammartino, infantry who sacrificed his life in defense of his country. Little that we can do or say will console you for the death of your loved one. We profoundly appreciate the greatness of your loss for in a very real sense the loss suffered by any of us in this battle for our country is a loss shared by all of us."
A second letter from Michael's commanding officer read:
"At sunset on July 11, 1944, our regiment stood at attention in honor of your son Michael J. Sammartino ASN 42021775 and his comrades who were also killed in action recently while serving with the 179th infantry."
Final after action reports read that Pvt. Michael J. Sammartino was killed while in action with hostile enemy forces in Anzio.
Every Memorial Day flowers are placed in a cemetery in Rome, Italy, a cemetery called the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy. It is a beautiful cemetery which is the final resting for many of our fallen American World War II veterans. Reading the markers shows most of these heroes were 18- and 19-year-old men who less than one year earlier were entering their senior year of high school. Each grave marker was more than a person. It was a story, a story of a fallen veteran who had a mother and father. Some had little brothers and sisters. Some married and for some marriage may have been waiting for him upon return. Not one had in his plans of being laid to rest in a different country.
If one passed plot H row 6 grove 60, they would read the following:
Pvt. 179th Inf 45th division
NY May 31, 1944
Pvt. Michael J. Sammartino was laid to rest by his country on May 31, 1944. As he laid peacefully in his grave, he was sadly missed by his family. When he left his house on that January 7 morning in 1943, there was a 9-year-old sister who in her mind thought her brother was going out for a walk. He never returned.
As the years passed, Michael's sister Frances' love for her brother got stronger and it became harder to live without the thought of just being able to visit his gravesite. It wasn't until 52 years, 11 months and 26 days later that her one wish in life came true. Michael, a young 18-year-old lay peacefully in his grave for 52 years before he was visited by his sister and her son Kenneth. Fifty-two June 15s were celebrated as Michael's birthday here, 52 Christmases and 52 years of being alone.
A sister's love for her brother which is still as strong today as it was when she last embraced him that one day in 1943 never to see him again.
A cemetery in Italy is now a resting place that after visiting leaves a better feeling in sister Frances' mind knowing her brother is resting in peace in a beautiful place.
No one will ever know for sure what the price of going to war really was. We know what our losses are yet no one ever knows what we have really won. Why does an 18-year-old boy have to lose his life and never return home? Why do the families have to suffer so much? All those mothers who cried themselves to sleep each night knowing that the person they had brought into this world needed to be taken to determine who the winner of war may be. The 9-year-old sister who hugged and kissed her older brother never realizing that kiss and hug will be the last. Frances Sammartino, thank you for sharing your story of one of our greatest heroes. You have shown us a sister's love.
Michael Sammartino is our hero of the week.