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Joseph S. Genco, took dramatic photos with OSS; June 6, 1923 -- March 21, 2011

Joseph S. Genco of Hamburg, who used a camera to chronicle his reconnaissance work behind enemy lines during World War II, died Monday in Mercy Hospital. He was 87.

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Genco was a graduate of Grover Cleveland High School. During World War II, he volunteered to serve with the Army's Office of Strategic Services, which was founded by Buffalo native Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan and was the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Forces.

A technical sergeant and medic in the 2677 Regiment, Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Mr. Genco worked on sensitive missions in North Africa, the Italian Apennines, and the French and Italian Alps.

During a 1944 mission in the French Alps, Mr. Genco hit the side of a mountain during a parachute jump and suffered a knee injury. He had to be left behind and hid in a mountainside barn, watching German planes fly by at eye level.

In March 1945, he was a member of the SPOKANE Mission, dispatched to harass German garrisons; disrupt enemy communications; gather and transmit intelligence; as well as supply, arm and train partisan units in the Tyrolean Alps.

The following month, he had to identify and bury comrades who died when another plane crashed into a mountain while dropping additional personnel and equipment for the mission.

As a result of his service, Mr. Genco was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, as well as a Bronze Arrowhead.

After those OSS missions were declassified, Mr. Genco and his comrades were welcomed back to Italy in the 1990s, when they were interviewed by Italian historians, and Mr. Genco shared copies of his photographs.

Many of those rare, original World War II photographs and some personal memorabilia are part of the CIA's historic collection at its Langley, Va., headquarters. Additional materials are preserved in the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C.

Mr. Genco also was interviewed extensively for an upcoming documentary, titled "Behind the Lines: The OSS and Italian Resistance in WWII."

After the war, Mr. Genco attended Canisius College, where he photographed many sports events for the Griffin yearbook. He went on to graduate from Baltimore Institute of Photography, then pursued work as a freelance and commercial photographer while managing his family's meat market for his ailing father. He operated Color Photos by Genco, which specialized in portraits and wedding photography. In the early 1970s, he opened Hamburg Color Lab, which later became part of Delaware Camera Mart.

After retiring from that business in the mid-1990s, Mr. Genco continued as a freelance photographer until 2005.

He was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division Association; Hamburg Post 527, American Legion; and Hamburg Township Post 1419, Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was a volunteer at Veterans Affairs Medical Center and for sports programs for disabled veterans.

Mr. Genco also was a longtime member of Hamburg Council 2220, Knights of Columbus. His interests included golf, fishing and playing cards. He also loved jokes and telling stories.

His wife of 56 years, Dorothy E. Colmerauer Genco, died in 2005.

Survivors include five daughters, Mary Oldham, Patricia Schinzel, Joanne Zdrojewski, Barbara and Diane, and two sons, Chuck and Thomas.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday in SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 66 E. Main St., Hamburg.

[HABUDA]