The yellowed papers on the wall echo old-time names of Dunkirk from nearly 70 years ago.
They are among the many families that worked hard and made Dunkirk great back in its earlier days. Some still have descendants in the area, some do not. The men listed on the papers had banded together many years ago to honor and remember one of their peers, a man who never made it home from World War II. The men are from the American Legion Post 1344, and the fallen comrade is Frank Acquavia. The compelling and somewhat distressing question remaining is who will remember these men and the ultimate sacrifice made by Frank now that as of Friday, the Frank Acquavia Memorial Post 1344 has closed its doors?
The 1946 charter membership roll includes such names as Albertine, Barone, Caruso, Castellana, Cavatta, Cirrito, Crise, Doino, Gennuso, Hendrickson, Logano, Loguidice, Lupone, Mancuso, Martinelli, Michael, Muscato, Negro, Sadowski, Saglimben, Scaglione, Sorci, Speziale, Spina, Valentine, Valvo, and Zavarella.
The post that bears the name of Frank Acquavia closed its doors on Friday.
Primarily of Italian ancestry, they were granted a charter from the American Legion in the namesake of Frank J. Acquavia who was killed in action in the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
A center ceiling tile at Post 1344 bears the name of Frank J. Acquavia of the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, US Army, WW II, Pacific, KIA (killed in action). During the early days of the war, the 59th was charged with the harbor defense on Corregidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay in the Philippines.
A day after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they also struck airbases in the Philippines on the large island of Luzon. Unlike Pearl Harbor, the Japanese continued their attack with a ground invasion headed toward Manila. American and Filipino troops on this island retreated to a side of the island named Bataan Peninsula. Although they fought and held out for approximately four months, they surrendered to the Japanese in April 1942 due to disease, near starvation, and lack of outside military support. This led to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the Bataan Death March as American and Filipino POW troops were herded to another part of the island which included deprivation of food and water, forced to sit in the sun, random beheadings, bayoneting, shooting those too weak to walk, being run over by vehicles, and even buried alive.
Such inhumane treatment was acceptable to the Japanese at the time because they considered it dishonorable to surrender.
During this time, the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment on near-by Corregidor Island was also fighting back from constant Japanese bombardment. According to the 'History of the 59th Coast Artillery' at concretebattleship.org, "no spot on the entire island was more than 25 yards away from a shell or bomb crater." The 59th repelled several Japanese landings, but due to similar conditions as Luzon, they were also forced to surrender on May 6th of 1942. It was here that Frank was killed on May 10.
The book, "No One Forgets," by G. Burns and R. Titus, describes what happened. "Frank was captured on Corregidor, Philippines, during the opening days of the war in the Pacific. The Japanese herded some of the Americans down to a seaplane pad area. Frank went to retrieve or find food that was hidden at their battery.
A Japanese guard spotted him and opened fire with a machine gun, killing him instantly. This was witnessed by Jim Rossoto of Fredonia. His body was never recovered."
With the closing of Post 1344, where will the charter papers and other memorial artifacts go, but more importantly, who will remember these World War II veterans, especially Frank Acquavia?
The history of Post 1344 has a rich history. An archive paper from its basement summarized it from 1945 through the 90s. It states that the dedication of the building in 1950 came only after five years after its founding in honor of Frank who had enlisted in the U.S. Army, 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery A. Inspired by such courage and devotion to duty and country, Post 1344 came into being in 1945 with much organizational efforts of John T. Spina. Its beginnings were small and the Columbus Club permitted Legion members to use its clubrooms. As membership increased, the Post moved to the old Rendezvous Cafe at West Second and Central until 1949.
The first officers were Anthony Valentine, Samuel Barone, Russell Valvo, Samuel Muscato, John Spina, Michael Speziale, Mark Speziale, Anthony Spera, and Anthony Marzullo. They were installed on Sunday afternoon on February 10, 1947, at ceremonies held in the home of Dunkirk Memorial Post Commander George H. Burns of Dunkirk Memorial Post No. 62. He opened the meeting and welcomed the County Commander and the newly-organized Post. The new commander closed the meeting, the Rev. Valerio Bernardo, the pastor of Holy Trinity Church, said a blessing, and Frank Pagano played taps. In 1949, Philip LoGuidice, Building Committee Chairman, and a small group formulated plans for the permanent Post home on 221 Lake Shore Drive West. In 1991, an extensive remodeling was undertaken, with obvious confidence for its future.
Words from the past boldly stated that Post 1344's home stood as a memorial to Frank Acquavia, departed comrades, and a tribute to the endeavors of all Post members, officers, and commanders who had diligently served their post, as well as becoming an integral part of the community. It is indeed a sad day to see its doors close. Will younger generations even know it existed?
Why don't more returning present-day veterans join their local legions? Formed in 1919 by World War I veterans, the American Legion was instrumental in winning many benefits for veterans and has spearheaded many good programs for youth.
Is it possible the younger generations of veterans and the community as a whole don't know how several thousand World War I veterans, many with their families, converged in Washington D.C. in 1932 in a "tent city," demanding fair and promised compensation for their war service? At least two veterans were killed and many were injured from the forced evacuation, but it did lead to vets receiving their bonuses and the passage of the GI Bill of 1944, which helps military veterans transition back into civilian life. It's when we take things for granted that we lose them.
While the doors have regrettably closed at Post 1344 on Lake Shore Drive, current members have indicated they will keep its charter. When the building is sold, they intend to use remaining funds for scholarships in the name of Frank Acquavia.
Perhaps they will meet at places such as Post 62 and the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum, ever careful of the Post's archives so that its beginnings are never forgotten. For Post 1344, certainly many eyes over the years and years of festive graduation parties and wedding receptions in the banquet room have gazed over those same yellowed pages listing all the original men of its charter in 1946.
Make it a good week and as always, thank our veterans for their service.