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Saluting Our War Heroes / Stories about those who served Recalling a brother who didn’t make it home

Daniel B. Nazzarett, 22

Hometown: Cheektowaga

Residence: West Seneca

Branch: Army Air Forces

Rank: Second lieutenant

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1942-44, killed in action

Most prominent honors: Purple Heart, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster

Specialty: Pilot in P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

As a young boy, Daniel B. Nazzarett dreamed of soaring in the sky. In time, he would fulfill that dream – as a World War II fighter pilot.

His family says it took a miracle for that to happen, and they can cite exactly what they believe brought about the miracle that began Nazzarett’s recovery from crippling childhood polio and made it possible for him to climb into a cockpit.

It was on an Aug. 15 in the late 1920s when Nazzarett’s mother, Rose, made a pilgrimage, walking several miles from her Cheektowaga home to Our Lady Help of Christians Chapel.

Along the way, she repeatedly petitioned the Blessed Mother to find a cure for her son. That night, Rose’s husband, Joseph, returned home from his railroad job with the name of a chiropractor.

“I remember being told my father carried my brother up the steps into the chiropractor’s office, and, after many treatments, he regained movement of his legs,” says Louise N. Porreca, 91, sister of Daniel Nazzarett.

Able to move about, Nazzarett often visited nearby Gardenville Airport in West Seneca, where he watched the planes landing and taking off, she recalls.

When he was old enough, he learned how to fly and enlisted in the Army Air Forces.

You might say his service as a pilot in a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane appeared to be ordained. But during his 15th mission, following a dogfight, Nazzarett’s plane was struck with flak from anti-aircraft guns. His aircraft plunged into a farmer’s field in the Netherlands, and the miracle boy’s life ended.

Back home, his family was devastated when they received word, initially that he was missing in action as of Feb. 22, 1944. For more than two years, the Nazzaretts lived with not knowing whether he was dead or alive. At one point, their parish priest traveled to Washington, D.C., to ask the pope’s U.S. envoy to try and find out whether Nazzarett was hospitalized in Europe, says Porreca, Nazzarett’s only surviving sibling.

The military, in a letter dated Dec. 10, 1946, notified Rose and Joseph Nazzarett that their son had been killed in action.

His story might have ended with that grim notification, but Porreca recently received news from the Netherlands that her brother, despite the passage of more than seven decades, continues to be saluted as a war hero.

The news first came to the West Seneca woman in a letter from Mike Van Venrooij, a member of a Dutch group that researches World War II pilots who crashed in Holland.

“It was indescribable comfort to know that my brother had a Christian burial the day after he crashed,” Porreca says of what she learned.

Follow-up emails and phone calls have shed even greater light on what was once thought to be lost to time.

A farmer, Jos van der Meijden, witnessed Nazzarett’s plane crash into his field, according to Joseph Porreca, Louise’s son. The farmer, who is now dead, told his own son, Bert, how he approached the crash site and found fragments from a set of rosary beads and a locket with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “That’s how they knew he was Catholic and went ahead with a secret Catholic Requiem Mass,” Louise Porreca says, explaining that the region known as Boxtel was still under the control of Germans.

Following the Mass, Nazzarett’s remains were buried in the church cemetery. But his identity was unknown at the time. That mystery would be solved later by the Army’s Graves Registration Service, which ultimately moved his remains to the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.

Porreca says she has even had the chance to talk with a man who had served as an altar boy at her brother’s Mass. His name is Piet Snijders.

“Piet was 12 years old at the time, and now he’s 83 years old,” she says. “I told him of my gratitude for the courtesy that he keeps showing my brother.”

That courtesy takes the form of a tribute Snijders pays each time he rides his bicycle past Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s cemetery and when he passes the field where the plane crashed. Snijders says he gets off his bicycle and pauses to reflect.

“I stand still and think of what your brother did for the people of the Netherlands by giving his life for us,” Snijders says.

And each time Porreca thinks of this continuing tribute to her brother, she says it puts her in mind of a hymn she had learned of when she served as a volunteer chaplain for nearly three decades at the VA Hospital in Buffalo.

It is the second to last verse, Porreca says, that touches her deeply because she believes that God has given her not only comfort, but a surprise late in her own life in learning of how caring the people of Boxtel were toward her brother.

The hymn, “I Was There To Hear Your Borning Cry,” was written by John C. Ylvisaker.

Porreca is so moved by the verse that she read it aloud:

“When the evening gently closes in and you shut your weary eyes, I’ll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise.”

After a pause, she says, “Isn’t that beautiful.”

You might say it’s part of the miracle that touched Daniel Nazzarett’s life so long ago.

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