Friday, 07 December 2012 00:00Editor’s note: The following is an essay submitted by Josephine Detz about her father, Pfc. John G. DiBartolo. This is part of a series of essays, which were submitted by our readership for the Anton Newspapers Military Heroes Essay Contest with the American Airpower Museum of East Farmingdale and The Collings Foundation. Essay winners recently flew in historic aircraft stationed at the American Airpower Museum.
This journey I have embarked upon started Jan. 29, 2000. My father’s journey began on April 3, 1943, his first day in the U.S. Army.
In his service diary he wrote, “Last day in civilian life, will never forget that day for the rest of my life.” I wonder what he was thinking as he left his family and sweetheart, my mother. His name is John G. DiBartolo and he was only 19 years old.
I was only too happy to make a donation for the building of the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. I wanted to honor my dad by registering his name; I did not want him to be left out. After doing so, I became more and more curious about exactly where he was and what battles he fought in while in Europe. So I decided to try and find out but had no idea at the time all the research I was facing. I don’t think my dad knew exactly what he was in for when he was drafted. So now I began to take the same journey he took some 57 years ago.
I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri requesting my dad’s records but soon found out that they were destroyed in a fire. My mother gave me my father’s discharge papers and a letter from 1956 stating his meritorious service in battle and his receiving the Bronze Star, his service diary and an address book he carried with him through Europe. From these papers I got dates of active service in the U.S. and Europe, a list of medals he received and battles and campaigns. It sounded like a lot of information but it was not specific enough. I found out he was discharged from the 103 Division, 409 Regiment, so that was where my research began.
The records center suggested that I write to the U.S. Army Military History Institution in Carlisle, PA. To my disappointment, they too had no records. I guess the best source I could have had would have been my dad but on May 20, 1988, one month before his retirement, he was killed in a hit-and-run auto accident. So I was left to do all the research on my own.
While growing up, my dad would tell my brothers and me some of the experiences during WWII, the “Big One,” as he would put it. He talked of his basic training, his short-lived Air Cadet training. He never went into any detail when speaking about the combat he went through.
He spoke very fondly of his buddies and his staff sergeant who he admired so much, whom I tried to locate but had no success. Being young myself at that time I didn’t pay much attention to details. In retrospect I wish I had.
Another avenue I took was going to my local library and seeking out books on WWII. To date I have read 15 books. I also initiated the borrowing of books from the U.S. Military History Institute. I photocopied maps from WWII at the library and tried to find the route his division took.
If I thought I was going to have trouble tracing my dad through Europe, I soon found out that some of the installations he was based at in the states were no longer active.
In my home we receive the American Legion magazine. From the publication I got names and addresses of WWII veterans who head up reunions. I wrote to them in hope that one of them knew my dad. Slowly, correspondence was coming back to me but to my disappointment, again, no one could help me.
Some of the vets forwarded my letters on to others and even gave me other contacts and leads. This hope kept me going. Someone had to have remembered him and I felt that it was just a matter of me writing that letter to the right person. I was confident that would happen.
As Memorial Day approached I glued myself to the TV, watching the History Channel, trying to view as many shows as I could on WWII in hopes that something would be revealed and help me with my work. I especially paid attention to information on certain divisions of the 7th Army and their battles. I was hoping for anything that would further me along and keep me going.
Upon looking over my dad’s medals and patches I came across two other patches other than the Cactus Division, that of the 103. One was for the 1st Infantry Division, the red one, and one for the 66th Division, the Black Panther. I knew what this meant. Now I had to not only research the 103rd but also the 1st and 66th divisions. This information now meant more letters and more books to read. I found out that he was in the states when he was with the 1st and 66th.
I have spent countless hours online and written over 500 letters trying to find someone who knew him and get an accurate account of his military history. My dad wrote letters home to his family and friends before going overseas and used an Esterbrook fountain pen for his correspondences. When my dad passed away, my mom gave me his pen and I have used it to write all my letters, hoping that he would guide me along the way. I cherish the pen; it has so much meaning attached to it and to me.
Upon my mother’s death in 2003, I found tucked away in a drawer a small piece of paper. On this piece of paper was information I so desperately needed, the company he was with in the 103rd. Having this information enabled me to now narrow down his whereabouts. I was now able to get morning reports and locate him by the company he was with. I was so elated and felt confident that I was finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I was almost there.
I can now trace my dad from Brooklyn, his hometown to Camp Upton on Long Island to Basic Training in Florida, Air Cadet Training in Texas, Italy, France, German and Austria. There is still one bit of information I am currently working on. My dad did not have enough points to go home with the 103rd. He remained in Europe. I now need to find out what division he was transferred to and where he was. So my work is not complete yet. But I have come this far and I am determined to find out.
People often ask me why am I doing this research, why am I putting all this time and effort into such a project. There are three main reasons why I have taken on such a task. One is to honor my father and give him the recognition he deserves for what he did for his country. Secondly, I want my children and grandchildren to know what their papa did that enables them to lead the lives they live today, to enjoy the freedom he fought for. Thirdly, I am extremely proud of my dad and I am humbled by what I have learned during my research.
I cannot presume to know what my dad went through while engaged in combat or even know how he felt but, in looking at this Army pictures he sent home to his family I noticed that in 1943 at Camp Blanding in Florida, he looked so young and so alert and bright. One of the last pictures taken of my dad in 1946 aboard the Athos II coming home, I could see the aging that he did and how tired he looked. He paid a price for his combat efforts.
Over the course of the past 11 years, I have amassed so much data from all over the country, enough so that I have filled a file cabinet. I have letters from vets and, in some cases where the veteran is deceased, their wives have written to me. I have received maps, photos and books. I have four binders full of correspondences from veterans from all over the country. I am overwhelmed at the outpouring of kindness and genuine feeling of wanting to help me. They are truly the Greatest Generation. Sadly, they are becoming less and less and from what I understand, a 1,000 die a day. How sad!
My father returned home to Brooklyn, New York in 1946 and in 1947 married my mom. In 1958, he moved his family to Franklin Square, Long Island, where he raised his family and became a successful hardworking man. My father provided a good life for me and my brothers and mother. He is, and always will be, my hero and I love him and miss him everyday.
So I will continue on with my research and hopefully I will be able to trace my father’s footsteps from Brooklyn across the Atlantic through Europe and over the Atlantic one more time and safely home. This is a journey I am willing to take again with him except this time he will not have to endure the pain of separation from his family and face the fear of the unknown. This time I will bear it for him.