Editor's note: This is part one of two parts. The second part will be published on Nov. 4.
This division was called an "Americal Division" because it was an all-American Army division whose TAOR, or "Tactical Area of Responsibility," was in New Caledonia, but also the Guadal Canal, New Hebrides, and the Fiji Islands.
In 1915, in the farmlands outside of Silver Creek, babies were born at home, often without the aid of doctors, or even midwives. Without a doctor present, it was the father's responsibility to register the baby's birth in the village hall as soon as possible. In that year, the young Italian immigrants Giuseppe and Maria Zanghi celebrated the birth of Anthony, the first of their 10 children. It was early autumn, and along with celebrating the new birth and caring for his wife, Giuseppe, known as Joe, had to tend to his farm and livestock. It was a long walk or wagon ride to town, so the report of the recent birth would have to wait. Joe eventually made it to the town hall, and every Oct. 1 the family would celebrate young Tony's birthday.
Fast forward 65 years, when Tony applied for Social Security retirement. Letters were written, documents gathered and, to everyone's surprise, Tony discovered that, after all those years, his birthday was not Oct. 1, but Sept. 30. When he asked his mother about it she said, "Oh yes, 'pa was a little late reporting your birthday." Exactly which date he was actually born on is still a mystery. His birth certificate, baptismal certificate and military records have different dates.
Tony Zanghi was a local war hero, and a hero in many other regards. He was inducted into the Army on Feb. 2, 1941, and discharged on Oct. 25, 1945, just 25 - or 26 days - after his 30th birthday. He was proud of the distinction that he was one of the few enlisted men who was inducted before the events at Pearl Harbor and wasn't discharged until after the war was over.
He recalled where he was, and what he was doing, when he got word about Pearl Harbor, similar to the recollection many people have when they heard President Kennedy was shot. It was a Sunday, he was stationed at Fort Dix, and he and some buddies went roller skating - probably looking for Jersey girls. There was an announcement that Japan had attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. They all rushed back to the base. He said that it was the last time that he ever went roller skating.
Tony was a member of the Americal Division. Initially referred to as Task Force 6814, the Americal was an infantry unit hurried in its formation following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Task Force 6814 was an assorted collection of orphaned U.S. Army units assembled to protect New Caledonia, a strategic island in the Pacific. When the War Department called for the formation of a division among units assigned to the Task Force it had been molded into a strong, unified organization. Normally an infantry division is assigned a number, but as Tony recalled, this group of soldiers had the unusual circumstance of being named instead. The name "Americal" was derived from the formation of "American troops on New Caledonia". In addition to being the only division with a name and not a number, the Americal became the first United States Army division, and perhaps the only one, to be activated on foreign soil during World War II.
Tony spoke with pride whenever he mentioned the Americal Division. As a matter of fact, a likeness of the Americal's shoulder patch, a blue shield with four stars in the shape of the Southern Cross Constellation (because it was formed in the southern hemisphere), appears on the back of his grave stone. One of Tony's military awards was the Presidential Unit Citation, which was awarded to members of the Americal for their action at Guadalcanal from August 7, 1942, to December 9, 1942. The distinction, as Tony would point out, was that the Presidential Unit Citation was an award presented by the Navy for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. The Americal was the only army unit during WWII to receive this award from the Navy. Amongst Tony's Army belongings is a personal log that he kept with memorable dates of service. It indicates that he left the Brooklyn Port of Embarkation for overseas on Jan. 23, 1942. He traveled aboard the Argentina, a cruise ship converted to a troop carrier, for Melbourne, Australia, via the Panama Canal. He then left for New Caledonia, (at about the time that the division was being formed in New Caledonia) and then sailed to Guadalcanal.
Tony was in a combat engineering battalion and saw combat at Guadalcanal. He often recalled that while he was on Guadalcanal his brother, Angelo, was only a few miles away aboard the USS O'Bannon, the most decorated naval ship during WWII. The two brothers attempted, in vain, to get permission for a visit. When permission was denied, they were suspicious that something might be brewing. Sure enough, the fierce battle of Guadalcanal erupted and neither knew the other's fate. Tony, who could see the U.S. ships during the heavy shelling, prayed for his brother; Angelo, aboard the O'Bannon, did the same.
During the war, Tony's parents had the distinction of being Four- Star parents. At one time their sons Tony, Ang, Sam and John were all actively serving. Their sons Angelo, Sam and John still live in the Brocton/Portland area. Their youngest son Russell, who also served in the Navy, lives in Seattle. Their oldest daughter, Francis, of Brocton, and son Joe, of Fredonia are deceased. Their daughter Lucy lives in Buffalo. They also had infant twins, Vincent and Theresa, who died shortly after birth.
After Guadalcanal, Tony and the Americal Division went to New Hebrides and then the Fiji islands. While on Fiji, Tony contracted malaria and was hospitalized for ten months; first on Fiji and then in the states. Tony's oldest son Joe recalls his dad having reoccurrences of malaria. Joe remembers occasions during the summer when it would be warm outside and his dad would get the chills and shakes. "My dad was not the kind of guy to get chilled easily," Joe recalls, "except when he had an attack. Then, even though it would be warm outside, he would wrap himself in his wool, khaki Army blanket."
Next week: Part two.