World War II Pacific Theater
USS Missouri (BB No. 63), 3 Battle Stars
Medals and Awards: World War II Victory Medal, American Area, Asiatic Pacific w/ 3 Stars
Joseph Samuel Gatto, U.S. Navy
Seaman Second Class Gunner's Mate, 4th Division Main Deck Midship
Participant in the formal surrender of the Empire of Japan at 0908 hours on September 1945
Married: Estelle (Sinare) Gatto, Joe's High School sweetheart nicknamed "Bunny," on Thanksgiving on Nov. 27, 1947. The couple were married for 33 years. She died in 1980.
Children: Tim Gatto, Steve Gatto, Marty Gatto, Cindy Willebrandt, Lori Artz.
Grandchildren: Beth Carmicheal, Catie Gatto, David Gatto, Michelle Wahl, Tristan Gatto, Chris Artz, Colin Artz, Josh Willebrandt, Jake Willebrandt, Jesse Willebrandt and Anne Willebrandt
Great-grandchildren: Joe and Peg
Married: Peggy (Franze) on June 30, 1985 in Dunkirk
Children: David Franze, Jeffrey Franze, Cindy Orr, Jodie Penfold, Sue Miller, Heidi Hill
Grandchildren: Erik Franze, Kristin Poulhin, Kyle Franze, Jacki Franze, Todd Franze, Randie Orr, Chris Orr, Michele Spaulding, Chris Penfold, Kim Valenti, Peter Miller, Kelly Miller, Shannon Clever, Tyler Clever, Jeff Hill Jr. and Autumn Hill
Joseph Samuel Gatto was born on Aug. 7, 1924, at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk. He was the son of Anthony and Mary (Dolce) Gatto.
The homestead was on Central Avenue in Brocton. His father was a barber and his mother worked for the Brocton Preserving Co. Growing up in Brocton had its advantages. Being a small town, it was a great place to find friends to just hang out with and have fun.
Gatto's group included his brother Charles, Sam Zanghi, Frank Bennice, Jack Spinuzza, Anthony and Frank Valvo. When asked where and what the group did, Gatto's reply was they did the things most kids of that era did. They went out and just looked for fun. They did things without anyone getting into trouble.
As for his favorite places he recalled hanging out at Ross Poma's Grocery Store, just sitting on the bench out front and talking about the local news of the day that was going on in downtown Brocton. As for baseball, there really weren't any good fields to play on until the hay was cut, only then the boys would trim the grass a little shorter to play. Most of the balls they could round up had to be taped. The bats were always broken and had to be screwed or nailed then taped many times to use. While growing up Gatto was taught to respect others and he was raised to know right from wrong.
School for this young man came and he was off to Brocton Normal School located on Lake Avenue. He attended classes until his sophomore year. He still recalled while he was a freshman and still at the Normal School his Coach, Vincent Benjamin, gave him a used basketball. In those days a basketball was a treasure. A treasure because basketballs at the time could not be purchased in a store.
With some used 3/8-inch steel round stock and a little planning the boys produced a makeshift basketball hoop. Then they went to the Benjamin's farm to play. Those summer games at the Benjamin farm landed varsity positions not only for Gatto but also Sam Zanghi and Frank Bennice.
When the trio attended the new Brocton Central High School in 1941, they walked into this shiny new school for his first time. Gatto couldn't believe this was a school. Everything was different from his school of the past.
From now on there was no more walking to school. Now this yellow bus would pick him up in front of his home. Lunch also was different. He could eat in a large room named the cafeteria. He no longer had to walk home for lunch. At Brocton he played varsity football, basketball, volleyball and ran track. He graduated in 1942 with the very first class of the new Brocton High School. It is a day he will never forget.
With school over and not being able to find factory work, he found work on the local farms. His first job was picking for the Millonzi farm where he picked berries for 3 cents a quart and even picked for 1 and 3 cents a quart depending on the need.
I asked what his best day was and Gatto recalled picking 94 quarts in the morning and 27 in the afternoon. He wanted a bicycle and his father made a deal with him. He was told if he made enough money to purchase the bike he could get it. The bike he wanted was $37 and at the end of the season he had only made $34. His dad helped him with the rest and he placed the order for his new Hawthorn bike through the Montgomery Ward catalog.
Finally a good job opportunity arose and he received a job with the New York Central Railroad. He received $18 every two weeks. He was still living at home. He later worked at the Steel Plant as a pyrometer reader. In this job he basically checked the temperature of the fire in the furnace. Gatto claimed that this job was so simple that he was sometimes embarrassed to receive his weekly check of $40. He also felt bad because his job did receive deferments and he felt it was time for him to do his duty to his country.
It was too good to be true and it was on Sept. 25, 1943 that he was drafted. He went to Buffalo and as he stood in line he watched this man walking down the line saying "you Navy, you Army, you Army, you Navy." He kept his fingers crossed and a smile came out when the man stood in front of him and said "you Navy."
His next stop was to boot camp at Sampson. From there his orders sent him to Norfolk, Va. He awaited his assignment to a ship. He got word that his brother was coming home and asked for leave to go home. The leave was granted and Gatto was told he would be reassigned when he returned from leave. He was also informed that there were some newer and bigger ships coming that needed assignments.
Since he was going home he was worried it might wreck his chances of getting one of these assignments. When he returned he feared the worst, but he received word that this was his lucky day. Gatto received orders for the navy's newest battleship the USS Missouri, a brand-new Iowa class battleship. Word also came with it that it was the fastest of its class and may be the last battleship to be built. Aircraft carriers were now the Navy's future.
While on the Missouri he was headed for her first shakedown cruise. His ship was headed for Trinidad via the Panama Canal to the Pacific ending up in San Francisco on Nov. 28, 1944. She fueled up and headed to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and arrived on Christmas Eve of 1944.
He got to see some action. The mighty Missouri was headed for an island no one ever heard of. The island's name was Iwo Jima. All he knew was the mighty Missouri was an important part of this invasion supplying much gunpowder in bombing the island before the U.S. Marines where to invade.
After Iwo Jima he was with the mighty Missouri for the participation in the battle for Okinawa. As the war in the Pacific was winding down Gatto and the Missouri still saw action taking hits from enemy aircraft and kamikaze pilots.
Word came over the ships loud speaker that the war was over, but instead of heading back home the Missouri was sailing toward Tokyo Bay. The world would see the Japanese surrender on her deck. Since Germany was also defeated the world was now going to be at peace.
It was now time for Gatto and the others with him to return home and just pick up where they had left off. It was back to Brocton and a job at Allegheny Ludlum which lasted only 14 days before he and the other veterans returning received their layoff slips due to lack of work because the war was over. War products were no longer in demand.
He later applied for a clerk's job at the railroad, which lasted until 1948. Working for the railroad and being interested in tariff and rate shipping he eventually received the job he loved with the Penn Central Railroad Co. as a relief agent worker and became a freight agent which involved shipping and receiving goods via the railroad. His next job came with the Welch Co. as an assistant traffic manager. One year later he was off to the Industrial Traffic School which sent him back to the steel plant where he spent his next 25 years until his retirement in 1982.
Where can I start? There are so many things to say about this story. A local hero just months before was standing in line in Buffalo and did not even know what branch of the military he would be serving in, or where he would serve.
This is a story of another local hero who actually witnessed history being made. This young man from Brocton who, by just being lucky, was selected to be a part of the crew of a new Iowa class battleship. He was lucky enough to be selected to serve on the very last battleship built. He was also lucky enough to be selected to witness and survive the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He sailed into Tokyo Harbor and witnessed the surrender of the empire of Japan. This hero's luck followed him home to enjoy a family of over 40 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A story to tell each and everyone of Gatto's family to sit around grandpa Joe at Christmas or his birthday and say 'grandpa tell us your story. Tell us about the Mighty Mo. Tell us about being in Tokyo Harbor in 1945. Tell us everything grandpa, it's your story to tell.' Thank you Joe Gatto for your service. Joe Gatto is our Hero of the Week.
NEXT WEEK: The sailor Joe Gatto and his ship.
Submitted by John Fedyszyn, Vietnam Veteran