Michael Sammartino was born at his family's home at 145 Lake Shore Drive West on June 13, 1926. In addition to Michael, the Sammartino family included brother Joseph and sisters Grace (Dolce), Mary (Matteo), Frances (Sayers) and Ann (Johnson). Michael's father Thomas was employed at the Cease Commissary which wasn't far from the homestead. Being the night watchman made it easier for him to get things done around the home. He also had a day off during the week which allowed him to get things done before Saturday. Michael's mother Angeline (Tabone), a homemaker, made sure the children were always dressed, clean, well-fed. The children grew up knowing all the rules that would keep them free from receiving the consequences that came with the event.
When Michael was 5, he started attending school. He enjoyed doing what the big kids were doing so school was a special place. The first school Michael attended was Holy Trinity Catholic School. He graduated from 8th grade and then attended Dunkirk High School. The times were hard. Keeping up with the bill collectors was difficult because there were not a lot of good jobs and the entire country was seeing hard days that seemed to go on without an end in sight. Wanting to help out the family, Michael decided it would be best if he dropped out of school and worked to help out. Michael landed a job at Cease Commissary in the maintenance department. Now the commissary had three Sammartinos working for them; brother Joe was also employed with Cease's until he was drafted into military service.
Except for the nation's economy, it was the best time of this young man's life. Living near Dutch Hill, Michael became an official member of Dunkirk's famous Dutch Hill. (Dutch Hill was an area from Swan to Brigham Road running down Dunkirk's Second Street.) Being part of the Dutch Hill gang meant having good, loyal friends. For Michael it brought close friends Mike Bomasuto, Mike Tabone, Ed Wisniewski, Rudy Dull and Jim Fuller. Playing baseball, football and night flashlight raids kept the group out of trouble. At age 16, Michael got his first car. It was an old Model T that his father had once owned. Michael now had transportation to work. As a brother he took great care of his sisters who, whenever in need of a ride, saw brother Mike close by. He was just a great brother.
At 17 Michael wanted to serve his country. Michael enlisted in the United States Army. He so much wanted to be like his brother Joe who already was serving his country. On August 24, 1943, Michael Sammartino was officially a United States soldier with his first set of orders sending him to Camp Upton near New York City. Here he completed his basic training and was next sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama. Here Mike was assigned to C&C 13th training battalion.
On January 7, 1944, he was sent to Fort George Meade in Maryland. Just 11 days later, Michael was holding new orders that sent this new soldier overseas. The 10-day trip landed him in north Africa where Michael was given more training for upcoming campaigns. Waiting impatiently for assignment to a combat unit, Michael finally received his orders on February 18 to the Anzio Beach head campaign. Upon arriving Michael learned he was part of the blood and guts division lead by General George S. Patton. This new private from Dunkirk's Dutch Hill was assigned to the 45th infantry 45th division. These orders were the last this brave soldier would receive.
In Nettuno sits a cemetery which is called Sicily Rome American Cemetery.
A military headstone reads:
Pvt 179th Inf. 45th Div
N.Y. May 31,1944
Memorial Day was originally named Decoration Day, a day set aside to decorate the graves of our fallen war heroes, men who gave their lives to their country. Some of these veterans were never returned to their original homes. The last weekend in May for Decoration Day was first chosen because all the flowers in Washington were in full bloom by that date.
As we lost more veterans during World War II, the government decided to make the last Monday in the month of May the official day of the Memorial Day holiday. One reason was having holidays in the middle of the week disrupted government running smoothly. In addition the country's factories ran more efficiently if not shut down in the middle of the week. This holiday became the country's first long weekend. This gave families extra time at the cemeteries. After decorating the fallen veteran's grave, families had time to also decorate graves of deceased family members. The country now had a long weekend to become the official start of summer.
Decoration Day for the Sammartino family was not the same as for others. How could it be? Our country, while in its third year of World War II, was involved in a war that demanded the troops be well supplied with food, ammunition and supplies. Fuel was a key to winning and planes returning back to the United States were hardly seen except in extreme conditions. Our country was forced to have its fallen veterans placed in local military cemeteries. Many fallen veterans never did return home. More than 60 years after the end of World War II, there are still military cemeteries overseas. Many parents at the time chose to let their loved ones remain in their original resting place. Burial in a military overseas cemetery brought honor to the veteran and peace for the families from knowing their loved ones rest with the people with whom they served.
Michael is one of Dunkirk's fallen veterans who is now resting in a military cemetery in Italy, a fallen veteran who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Michael Sammartino joined the military to serve. As most men he knew he had to do his duty. There was no end of the war for Michael. As most men serving he had time to do a lot of thinking about what he would do when this war saw its last shot fired and came to an end. Michael Sammartino was never given the chance to fulfill his dreams. No one could ever know what his thoughts were.
Michael's story is a sad one for me to write. I try to put myself in the veterans' and their family's minds when I do their stories.
For Michael I have two stories. The first is about Michael as he grew up as a child, had childhood friends, attended school and then went in the service. As Michael boarded the troop transport leaving the United States he headed into a war from which he didn't know he would not return. His last days he saw the United States in his mind, believing that some day he would return and restart his life. Michael's life then ended in a military battle in Anzio. Michael never returned even as a fallen hero. This is the story of a veteran who didn't return to a job, had no marriage, no children, and no grandchildren. A hero whose life lasted 17 years, 11 months and 28 days. For his family Decoration Day isn't a drive to a local cemetery. The can't decorate Michael's grave with flowers since it is a thousand miles away.
On this Memorial Day, after we all take time to honor our fallen veterans and kick off the summer, let's all take time to sit down and think about Michael Sammartino, think about this young Dunkirk veteran who just wanted to follow the rules of his time and do his duty to his family and country. Take a little time to think about the Sammartino family and other families from our area who gave family members to a war. No graves for them to decorate; no graves for them to visit.
Michael Sammartino is our hero. To Michael's family, thank you for your sacrifice. I in my heart know how you feel with your loss. I in my mind will never know the sadness you have felt over the past 60 years knowing your loved one is resting in a military grave site in Italy and not being at his grave site on his birthday, Christmas or today on Memorial Day, a day created especially for our Michael Sammartino heroes lost in battle. Michael Sammartino is our hero of the week.