Salem Township man given WWII medals 66 years late
Pastor Jeff Bingman stood before his congregation on Sunday in New Beginnings Baptist Church in Forbes Road, Salem Township, and said he wanted to right a wrong that has lasted 66 years.
"There's a veteran among us who was never properly thanked for his service," he said.
That veteran is 87-year-old Domenick Piccinini, who served during World War II in the jungles of Burma, now known as Myanmar.
Earlier this year, Bingman learned that Piccinini, who lives near the church, never received combat medals for his military service, including a Bronze Star for valor.
"We recognize — as a congregation, as your friends and family — what you sacrificed so we could have the freedom to worship," Bingman said.
Piccinini joined the Army in 1943 and became a sniper hunter in the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional), known as Merrill's Marauders after Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill.
The unit was formed when President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for volunteers from other units to disrupt Japanese supply and communication lines.
About 3,000 men trained in India before they marched over the outlying ranges of the Himalayan Mountains into Burma. Through dense jungles, the soldiers fought in five major battles and captured Myitkyina Airfield before the unit was disbanded in August 1944. It later became a part of the elite Army Rangers.
Piccinini, who was working as a coal miner when he enlisted, said he had seen the jungle only in the movies before the war.
"I saw the jungles of Tarzan, but when you get there, it's a different story," he said.
Once when crossing a river, Piccinini said, he was with a group of 12 that was hit with machine gun fire. Only four survived, he said.
"We lost a lot of good men, and it hurts when you have to let them behind," he said.
Troops would survive in the jungle on 3,000-calorie K-rations dropped from cargo planes -- most often with only three days' worth of food to last five days, said Robert Passanisi, historian of the Merrill's Marauders Association.
"It was a very tough grind of endurance," he said. "In many cases, the mules died from the exhaustion and the men carried on."
Passanisi, 87, who served as a Marauder, estimates that 100 to 200 men from the unit are alive today.
"I think the recognition of deeds well done is very important and points out the contribution that this person made to the world," he said.
Five members of the Jeannette Combined Veterans presented Piccinini with the Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry Badge during the church service and saluted the veteran, who was surprised by the honors.
"Some people, they just take it into their own hands when something needs to be done. ... That's what makes heroes out of them," said veterans member Emory Elliot.
More than 20 members of Piccinini's family attended the service and were part of the congregation that gave him a standing ovation.
Piccinini's niece, Rose Marie Brooks of Forbes Road, worked with Bingman to assemble the family for the presentation.
"I'm very grateful. He's the last one to tell us all these stories. Once he's gone, they're gone," she said with tears in her eyes.
Piccinini said he just wished his wife of 54 years — Rose Bayura Piccinini, who died Oct. 14 at age 84 — had been there to share the moment with him.
"I was shocked. I never expected to get anything like that," he said. "I wish she was here. She was a part of me."
Piccinini, his family and Bingman were unsure why he never received his medals, but believe a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973, which destroyed 80 percent of Army discharge records from 1912 through 1960, might have been to blame.
Through the Merrill's Marauders Association, Passanisi was able to send Bingman the medals and expedite a process that otherwise could have taken as many as five years.
"We just wanted to do something for him to make him feel better," Bingman said of Piccinini's losing his wife. "I respect what those guys did; they saved the world."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fayette County parents charged with endangering children, cruelty to animals
- Reputed leader of motorcycle gang returned to Pa. to face charges
- Psychologist to evaluate Greensburg woman involved in Daugherty killing
- Route 30 work near Jeannette starts
- Sale date for Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette finalized by court
- Yukon kennel founder jailed for allegedly threatening workers
- WCCC board approves $800K in change orders
- Scottdale Community Pool offers swim classes
- No injuries after Greensburg-Salem school bus accident in Murrysville
- Greensburg woman faces theft, drug charges
- Medical pot advocates speak up at meeting with Sen. Folmer in Export