"It was Memorial Day weekend and I was doing some painting around my house," said Larry Giancola, the Guttenberg native who served in the Air Force in Vietnam. "I stopped to take a look at the War Memorial statue on 71st Street, when I noticed a small group of veterans from the local VFW had gathered at the memorial. I saw the names on the plaque at the memorial and I said, 'Well, Guttenberg had a lot of soldiers who served in the armed forces.' There must have been about 40 names on the plaque."
But Giancola was misinformed. The names that appeared on the plaque weren't simply Guttenberg residents who served in World War II; rather, it was a list the names of servicemen who lost their lives in the war.
"I was absolutely stunned," Giancola said. "I had no idea. Imagine, a small close-knit town like Guttenberg having so many lose their lives in the war. It was like having an entire class from Klein School killed in battle. I really couldn't believe it. At that point, I knew we had to do something."
With that in mind, Giancola organized the plan to bring back the Memorial Day parade in town. He also took the painstaking effort to do the hours of research on each native who was killed in action.
"We researched each and every one of them," Giancola said. "We went to the Jersey City Public Library and pulled out the old Hudson Dispatch microfilms, to find out more about each one of Guttenberg's war heroes. We also wanted to see if we could find the relatives of those who were killed, to see if they could add anything. Believe me, there were a lot of interesting stories behind these soldiers. Every time we went to the library, we found out more and more."
All totaled, 33 Guttenberg natives lost their lives in World War II. Seven were killed in World War I. One was killed in Korea and another lost his life in Vietnam. A total of 42 veterans from a tiny town in Hudson County all perished while serving their country.
With the research, Giancola felt like he got to know each and every one of them.
The research that Giancola and the Guttenberg Memorial Day Parade Committee, which he now serves as the chairman, compiled is being displayed throughout town this month, before the annual Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 28, beginning at 1 p.m.
The committee made posters commemorating Guttenberg's fallen heroes and the posters are being proudly displayed in the storefronts of local businesses throughout town, as well as community areas and Anna L. Klein School.
Each poster sketches in detail the incredible stories of 16 of the 42 servicemen who lost their lives. The committee could only come up with photos of 16, so they are the ones that are featured on the posters.
Some of the research that Giancola and the committee uncovered is unfathomable.
For example, they found out that three of the fallen heroes died within a four-day period, from Feb. 22-26, 1944. "It was part of the maximum effort that our forces had against Germany," said Giancola, who is also a military historian. "It was very bizarre to see that we lost three of our men from Guttenberg in the same week."
Another fallen hero, John Rzempoluch, was killed while manning the chief gun on the USS Helena, in the Kula Gulf on July 4, 1943. However, Giancola found out that Rzempoluch's bravery enabled many other sailors aboard that ship to be saved, by clinging desperately to the port area where he was manning at the time of his death. His efforts also went to save the lives of his three brothers, who were en route to the scene, as part of a troop transport patrol.
Giancola also told the tale of Harry T. Dandorf, who was among four boys from the same family that served in the military.
"The doorbell on their home had never rung ever, until the day that the Western Union boy brought the telegram to Harry's mother," Giancola said. "I found out from his sister that she had to read the telegram to her mother that told her Harry was the brother who was gone."
Another fallen hero has a very familiar name in the town. Cyril Sabello was killed when PT Boat 354 was sunk in the Pacific, off the coast of New Guinea. Cyril was the brother of current Guttenberg Mayor Robert Sabello. "I looked on the monument and saw the names and I knew some of them were familiar," Giancola said. "When I saw the name Sabello, I knew there must have been a relation and found out it was the mayor's brother."
When the committee was first formed three years ago and the research was done to find out more about the soldiers, Giancola said that he reached out to the surviving family members, all across the country, and some were able to come back to Guttenberg to attend the parade, honoring their family members.
"We had some come from California, some from South Carolina, some from Florida," Giancola said. "It was very nice."
Last year, the committee honored the Korean War on its 50th anniversary. This year, the committee will honor the township's fallen veteran from the Vietnam War, the late Robert M. Casey, who was a member of the U.S. Navy.
"He was a true hero," Giancola said. "He received the Navy Cross."
More than 250 posters were printed and distributed around town. They have certainly enlightened the awareness of what Memorial Day truly represents.
Giancola said that the posters were paid for by contributions from township merchants, from the town of Guttenberg and the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The committee is also selling embroidered T-shirts, commemorating Memorial Day.
And, of course, the Memorial Day ceremonies culminate with the annual parade, which will begin assembling at 12:30 p.m. and kickoff at 1 p.m. The parade route will travel down 68th Street across Bergenline, down to Boulevard East, then left over to 71st Street and a presentation at the Memorial monument.
The Emerson High School marching band will perform, as will the school's ROTC program. Klein School will have a 27-foot float, donned with the entrants from a Memorial Day poster contest. Veterans will also talk to the students of the school prior to the parade.
"We want to get as many people to come to march," Giancola said. "It will be a memorable day."