By Susan Santacroce Mandaville
This Father’s Day, I celebrated my Dad in a new way. Having lost him in 2009, I usually commemorate his framed life reminiscing our times together. Generally, there is nothing new to add to the memories. But this year, on some level, he came back to life, thanks to Al Compoly, a Vietnam veteran from Stroudsburg, Pa.
Compoly does maintenance work for a church in Pennsylvania. The church had received a World War II helmet with liner as a donation for its annual fundraising flea market. Compoly separated the liner and helmet and discovered the name “Frank Santacroce” inside.
Compoly looked up the soldier’s obituary and learned where he had served and the names of his children. The American Legion Post in Sag Harbor, our hometown, received an email from Compoly telling of his find.
Dad was born above a store in the small whaling village of Sag Harbor. He would have turned 101 in June. In his early life, he was adventuresome. He loved to fish and roller skate. Dad had opened his own service station and was married.
Then the war broke out. He was inducted in the United States Army on Dec. 11, 1942, serving in the 36th Infantry Division, A Company, 111th Engineers.
Dad came home changed. He was grateful to be alive, but saddened by what he had seen. Ten months after his return, his wife died suddenly.
Five years later, he married my Mom. She also was a World War II veteran, serving in the U.S. Army Nurses Corps. I am the middle of their three children.
All my life, Dad stressed how precious life is. He would tell us, “You never know what is going to happen.” I am the only one of his children who didn’t settle close to home. Whenever I was leaving after a visit, Dad would say, “In case I don’t see you again, know I love you.”
Once, when he was on in years, I said, “Dad, when you die, if there is any way to contact me, I will be watching for you.”
Last month, I feel he did just that!
For many years, I have engaged in family research. For Dad’s 80th birthday present, I printed archival stories from our local newspaper.
During the war, the paper ran a column titled “From Our Men in the Armed Forces.” Dad would write, thanking the Sag Harbor Express for sending the paper so he could keep up with the happenings in his so-loved village.
In the Dec. 23, 1943, edition, Dad wrote, “I have been in three countries since I left the good old USA and I would trade the whole three of them for Main Street alone.”
In the June 14, 1945, edition, Dad wrote, “I suppose now that the war here is over, everyone is wondering when we’ll all be coming home. I guess it’s going to take quite a few months before all of us get there.”
American Legion Post 903 in Mount Pocono, Pa., is hosting a thank you dinner for Veterans Day. Compoly, a member, will use the helmet as a prop portraying Gen. George Patton. Following this event, the helmet will go home to Sag Harbor and be displayed in the American Legion Post 388, where Dad was an active member for 64 years.
My sister Cathy is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. She shared stories and pictures with Compoly. On Flag Day, he was interviewed on the nightly news.
Dad arrived in Sag Harbor on Sept. 28, 1945, after being away for a total of 34 months. His helmet will arrive 72 years later. Thank you, Mr. Compoly!