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Mahopac World War II Vet Honored With Congressional Gold Medal

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Mahopac’s James Dipelesi accepts the Congressional Gold Medal from Rep. Mike Lawler last Friday afternoon at a ceremony at Carmel Town Hall. Dipelesi, 97, initially served with the Merchant Marines before joining the Navy during World War II.

James Dipelesi may have had to wait a long time to be recognized for his service to the nation during World War II, but he spoke with the humble gratitude that is emblematic of the Greatest Generation.

Last Friday, in a ceremony at Carmel Town Hall, Dipelesi, 97, was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-Pearl River), the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by an individual, group or organization.

“There are probably people who deserve this more than I do, or at least as much as I do, so I accept this on their behalf,” said Dipelesi, surrounded by family and fellow veterans during the presentation.

Dipelesi, a longtime Mahopac resident, left home at 16 years old to sign up for the United States Merchant Marines, before joining the Navy a couple of years later when he became old enough.

Lawler said that while serving in the North Atlantic, he was part of a ship that played a pivotal role in the dangerous Murmansk Runs that delivered essential supplies to the Allied forces in Europe. After Dipelesi joined the Navy, he served aboard a cruiser in the South Pacific, doing his part to defend freedom at a perilous time in history, he said.

“It really is a distinct honor to present today Jim Dipelesi with a gold medal from the Merchant Marines for his service in World War II, and to present him with a congressional proclamation highlighting that service and his many contributions, not just to the United States, but to the state of New York and the community here in Putnam County,” Lawler said.

“We are honored to be in your presence, we are honored by your service and commitment to our nation.”

Following the ceremony and rounds of photo opportunities with local officials and fellow veterans, Dipelesi told The Examiner that in order to join the Merchant Maries at 16, he paid a man $10 to pose as his father to help him falsify his age and sign him up for service. When he called his mother, whom he grew up with along with his grandmother, he told her what he had done.

There was no regret at the time for the decision he made despite World War II raging abroad.

“Being a patriot, I think, was one of the reasons,” Dipelesi said of his determination to join as soon as possible. “I wanted to do something for my country, and I was only 16.”

It was after a trip with the Merchant Marines to India, that Dipelesi decided to go to the Navy because, as he put it, “they got all the accolades.”

After he returned home from the war, Dipelesi worked for a carpet company and eventually rose through the ranks to become its president. He met his wife, Connie, on a blind date. After they married, they moved to Putnam County because she liked horses, so they bought a 10-acre property and cared for them on their land, he said.

During his time in the community, Dipelesi served 24 years for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, including work on the lakes of Putnam County. Carmel Supervisor Michael Cazzari said he recalled when he was a young police officer, Dipelesi was still with the auxiliary, helping to train officers to maintain lake safety.

Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne was one of the other officials and dignitaries who presented Dipelesi with a proclamation.

“Thank you for your years of service in the military, but also your many more years of service, community service, to this county, to this community that we all call home,” Byrne said.

When asked about what the Congressional Gold Medal meant to him, Dipelesi thought back to his fellow servicemen who did not return home and dedicated his award to them.

“I accept it on behalf of all of the guys that didn’t make it,” he said.








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