Private First Class
Medals and awards: Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Expert M1 Rifle, Sharpshooter 45 Caliber Military M1919
Frank J. Acquavia
59th Coast Artillery Regiment
Civilian Conservation Corps - The CCC was a public works project and a relief program that was founded by Congress in 1933. It was opened for unemployed, unmarried men between 17 and 23 years of age. It was part of the New Deal which provided unskilled manual labor related only to conservation projects. While participating in the corps, the men received a $30 per month salary of which $25 was sent to the parents or legal guardian of the male. The project lead to a greater awareness of our outdoors and our natural resources. While active, the corps was credited in planting over 3 billion trees and more than 800 parks. In 1942 Congress voted to discontinue the corps, stating that with the country at war, these men were now needed to fill positions in the military or to work at factories in need of men to build items needed for war.
Frank J. Acquavia was born at home on May 28, 1917, to Rocco and Angeline Acquavia. His sisters were Carmel (Leone), Rose (Skelly), Nancy (St. George), Helen (Pantano), Janet (Adamczak) and Mary. His brothers were the Rev. Msgr. Paschel, Joseph and Daniel Paschel (for whom the priest is named).
Frank liked to play sports like sandlot baseball, basketball and touch and tackle football with his close friends Frank Racino, Jim Rosotto and Anthony Duino.
Frank attended Dunkirk High and Dunkirk's Industrial High School. Industrial was popular because it gave boys who were of high school age the opportunity to learn a trade such as wood working, machinery, auto mechanics or the electrical field. While in high school, Frank enjoyed boxing, becoming one of the most promising lightweight boxers in the area. He won the Niagara District Golden Gloves Championship in the late '30s, which carried with it the honor of representing the Niagara District at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Because it was difficult to find a job, Frank joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and remained with them until the summer of 1940. Then he went with his close friends to Jamestown to enlist in the U.S. Army. At the end of boot camp in September 1940, he and his friends were given their orders for overseas duty. Frank continued his love for boxing in the Army.
Frank was sent to the Philippine Islands, previously considered a paradise of palm trees and warm breezes. He was now on his way to becoming a member of the 59th coast artillery regiment (CAR) which had a long and illustrious history. It was originally activated in southern New York in January 1918 at Wadsworth. The regiment was immediately sent to France and was first committed to action in the Province on Sept. 12, 1918.
On Dec. 7, 1941, at 5 minutes before 0800 hours in Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy bombed the U.S. Naval Base along with its airfields. News hit the United States mainland and the entire nation was in disbelief. The nation started chanting the words, "Remember Pearl Harbor. We will make them pay." With all the commotion about Pearl Harbor, little attention was given to another United States base that was bombed by Japan on Dec. 8. The fighting in the Philippines took a back seat to what was going on in Hawaii.
In the Philippines the 59th CAR was at their battle stations bombing Japanese targets as they flew by. The bombing was a daily event.
On Dec. 29 large numbers of Japanese ships sailed out a few miles from land ready to disembark and take over the entire Philippine Island chain and claim it for Japan and their emperor. In the Philippines there were estimated more than 33,000 American and friendly Philippino soldiers left to protect the island. The Japanese had plans to land over 100,000 soldiers who were trained to fight until their death before surrendering the island back to the United States military.
On Dec. 29, the island received more than 16,000 rounds of time delayed and high explosive naval 8 inch gun fire. Forty-eight members of the 59th CAR were killed in action. The 59th was credited for numerous Japanese island landing kills and for destroying many Japanese 105 mm artillery guns. With no supply ships able to support the men with food, ammunition and first aid equipment, it didn't take long before the Americans were starting to scatter to supplies. The Japanese were resupplied daily and soon established a strong beachhead.
Finally on May 5, 1942 the American Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who replaced Douglas McArthur, decided with most of his troops scattered, wounded and short of supplies, the United States would surrender the Philippines. The flag was taken down and burned at noon. Gen. Wainwright's last military reports showed that all members of the 59th CAR were either killed, missing in action or taken prisoner by the Japanese.
All members of the 59th CAR received three presidential citations for their participation in conflicts in Bataan, Manila and Subic Bay. Defense of the Philippines were also awarded to the regiment.
Private Frank J. Acquavia was one of the prisoners taken on May 6, 1942. Four days later, during the terrible brutal infamous death march, Frank broke ranks in an attempt to locate food that he knew was hidden. While attempting this quest, Pvt. Frank Acquavia was shot to death by a Japanese soldier. Reports later came from the prisoner of war camp that Frank was missing in action. Frank's parents and family lived with the facts that he was missing in the Philippines for three years before the official word came confirming that Frank had been killed in action.
The name of Frank J. Acquavia is listed on the tablets of the missing at the Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.
The death march started with close to 30,000 Americans. Just over 5,000 men were present when the camps were liberated at the end of the war. Reunions were held every two years starting 10 years after World War II. The group met until 2004 when the last survivors were too frail to travel the distance anymore. At the last reunion, the small group was honored and then a dignitary sent from Japan apologized for the war crimes that the group witnessed.
The Bataan Death March was never given one day a year to be set aside to show respect and honor those who participated in it. Ten times the number lost at Pearl Harbor were lost in this march yet there is no Bataan Death March Day. We needed to do more for these brave soldiers but we didn't. We dropped the ball on this, and now so many young children will never know what grandpa and great-grandpa did while serving in the Philippines. There are no records and no information. For all that returned they were awarded a medal that one could buy for 43 cents. They have been abandoned for 60 years and now we can do our duties by remembering all those brave American men like our own Frank Acquavia who paid the ultimate price when he gave his life trying to get food for a brother soldier.
A local hero, so young with no wife to list, no children and no grandchildren.