Two Stories Behind the Banners Honoring Local Servicemen
By Peter Poggi
It is that time of year. Local towns are putting up banners saluting the local population that served in the armed services.
However, did you ever wonder who is it in that picture on the banner and what is the story behind their service to our country? I have two family members on those banners and here are their stories.
My father, Peter Louis Poggi, was born on July 4, 1919, to Italian immigrants Luigi and Maria Poggi on 104th Street in Manhattan. He was the third child, having two older sisters, Desolina and Letizia. The family lived in Manhattan and at the age of 13 the family moved to the Bronx.
When World War II broke out, my father worked in a ball bearing factory, which excluded him from the draft. At least, that is what I was told. Against his father’s wishes, my father enlisted in the Army in 1942 and for the next three years and three months served his country.
He was part of a group of men from New York City sent down to Mississippi to complete the 133rd Division, or better known as the Dixie Division. After boot camp, they were sent to the Pacific theater, specifically the Philippines and New Guinea, where they fought until the war was over.
My father seldom spoke about the war. It was only when he reached his twilight years that he would often tell me about his experiences. The most poignant thing that he told me was that in war life is cheap. The fighting in the Philippines and New Guinea was intense, often and downright brutal. He himself killed many enemy soldiers, which always weighed heavily on him.
Once the fighting stopped, it was time to clean up. He told me bodies would be everywhere, both the enemy and American GIs, and the process of disposing them would be required. As he told me, you would be numb, thankful you were alive and as to the bodies, it was war and in war life was cheap.
My father’s unit was issued new uniforms in 1945 and were being readied for the pending invasion of Japan. That never came about due to the atomic bomb and Japan’s surrender.
He came home in 1945. He married in 1947 to my mom, Jean, and had three children: Michael Louis, Karen Jean and Peter Louis Jr.
My brother Michael was born in August 1948 in the Bronx. At the age of 10, my family moved to Peekskill. Mike was not a book-smart kid. His loves were fast cars and fast women. Throw in a good barroom brawl once in a while and his life was complete. He pushed up his draft in 1968 and went into the Army.
He completed his basic training, then his advanced infantry training and was sent to Vietnam. There he led a squadron with an Armor Personnel Carrier in the 25th Infantry Division, 4th Cavalry.
It was Palm Sunday 1969, a week before my 15th birthday, we had just arrived home from the family gathering in the Bronx when there was a knock at the door. It was an Army captain, a sergeant and a local priest. We were informed that Mike was killed in action.
We were told that Mike was part of a column that came under enemy fire, Mike’s armor personnel carrier specifically. Mike and another squad member laid down a blanket of return fire giving the others a chance to run for cover. Although both lost their lives, the others were spared.
In the end, for this action and previous actions we were unaware of, Mike was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, an Army Commendation Medal for Valor and a Purple Heart. He was given a full military funeral in the City of Peekskill.
It’s been over 50 years and Vietnam is a fading memory for this country. I still think of him, I still wish he would come home. And, I disagree with my father – in war, life is not cheap. There is always a cost in war.
So this is it, the story of two banners hanging from a telephone pole. Two individuals whose service is being honored to all those who drive by. May we always remember the sacrifices of those who are looking down at us.
Peter Poggi is a longtime Peekskill resident.
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