WATERFORD, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Waterford’s only surviving World War II veterans and oldest local servicemen reflect on their younger years as Memorial Day approaches.
“I was only 19 years old, I think, or 18. It’s either go join or get drafted, and I didn’t wanna get drafted,” says Frank Gimmelli.
“My father served in World War I. I wanted to see what it was all about. It was a war that should have never been, but I was one of the fortunate. I met a lot of great people and saw a lot of great places,” says Thomas Catallo.
Both 98-year-olds are sons of Italian immigrants and lifelong Waterford residents. The town and Representative John McDonald spent Wednesday honoring Frank and Thomas as the Grand Marshalls for the town’s Memorial Day Parade.
“That was an honor I’m telling you. Waterford put on a good show for us guys, Tommy and myself,” Frank says.
Frank joined the Navy in 1942. He says he and his crew received honors when the USS Mosley managed to sink a German U-boat.
“We patrolled the North Atlantic, and that was our duties, and we came back one day, they said lookit, there’s a German sub right outside,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “Sinking it was just something we had to do. I’m no hero though, there are many other people who lost their lives out there who deserve [to be honored].”
Thomas joined the Army in 1943. He worked on equipment coding and decoding messages taking him to both the Battle of the Bulge and Normandy following the 1944 invasion.
“We would get the message from Washington, [it would] come to our headquarters in London or in Paris, and then we would send it out to different headquarters all over the European front,” he recalls.
Both say as proud as they are having served their country, war is not something they would wish on anyone.
“It’s sad when you look back and all the kids from Waterford that got killed. It’s a shame. War is hell, Roosevelt said that, and I believe it,” says Frank.
“It’s always bothered me. War, there’s just no reason for it. Why can’t we just talk? Why can’t we do that? I’d like to see people get along better,” Thomas says.
Thomas also shares some sage words of wisdom when he thinks about the current war in Ukraine.
“There’s room enough in this world for all of us, and if we don’t start doing something about this here war in our world, there won’t be a world,” he says.