French woman's extends gratitude to fallen soldier during Monessen visit
Clemence Moalli knew exactly where she wanted to be — had to be — on her first visit to the United States.
“I felt a deep obligation to come to Monessen,” said Moalli, 19, of Brest, Brittany, France. “I wanted to visit the hometown of Paul, to meet his family and to see where he lived. I feel a deep sense of closeness to all of them.”
“Paul” is the late Technician Fourth Grade Paulo “Paul” Denitti, who was a Monessen steelworker before enlisting in the U.S. Army on March 28 1942. He and 74 other American soldiers, all members of the Army's Sixth Armored Division, were killed on Aug. 10, 1944 in a bloody World War II battle with the Nazis at Plabennec, France.
He was only 24.
The Battle of Plabennec from August 8-10, 1944, was a major event in the liberation of France.
Like the others who gave their lives in that fierce fighting, Denitti is buried at the St. James Cemetery in St. James, France. His grave is one of 12 adopted by and cared for by Moalli.
She and her sister Lisa, 13, are the guests of Frank and Debbie Steck of Smock during their visit to the United States. Frank Steck is Denitti's nephew (his mother, Philomena “Phyllis” Fal is Paul's sister) and met Moalli for the first time in August 2012 when he and his wife attended ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Plabennec.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” said Steck, who is retired after a long career with the Veterans Administration. “The people there welcomed us with open arms, embraced us and made us feel at home. I told Clemence then that we would like to have her visit here and return the hospitality and kindness.”
Moalli became the “godmother” to Denitti's grave after visiting the Cemetery of Colleville in Normandy in 2010.
“My mother told me that she had read an article about people who take care of many graves in different American cemeteries in our country,” she recalled. “We arrived at the Wall of the Missing (at Colleville), so I wasn't able to see all the graves, but when I went upstairs, I fell into tears. I was telling myself that all of these men were dead because of one man (Adolf Hitler) and had sacrificed their lives for my country. I felt I had to do something.”
Moalli reaffirmed those sentiments while visiting the Veterans War Memorial at City Park in Monessen.
“This is such a beautiful place,” she said. “And to see all of those names of the men and women from Monessen that served their country leaves one speechless. The people of Monessen must be proud of and grateful to those who served. Our gratitude in France will never end.”
Steck, who lived in Monessen for many of his formative years before moving and graduating from Frazier High School in Perryopolis in 1960, reaffirmed the symbolism of the memorial.
“Monessen certainly had more than its share of men and women serving in World War II,” he said. “The entire Mon Valley was well represented by individuals of courage and commitment to their country. Many returned home to their families, but there were far too many who gave their lives. The veterans memorials throughout the area filled with the names of those men of valor.”
Among those greeting Moalli and her sister at the War Memorial was Ron Chromulak, chairman of the Monessen Veterans Council. Chromulak, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force whose career tours of duty included two years in Vietnam and 12 years in England, presented the girls with Monessen Veterans Council T-shirts and commemorative World War II key chains.
“You are to be commended for what you and your countrymen are doing in France to perpetuate the memories of and honor the services and sacrifices of those who gave their lives in World War II,” Chromulak told the girls. “It is especially encouraging to know that young people as yourselves are advancing and enhancing a tradition that has continued for ecades.”
Moalli thanked Chromulak and the Veterans Council for their thoughtfulness and said she and her sister “will wear these T-shirts proudly.”
“They will be a constant reminder of your kindness and of course of Paul Denitti,” she said.
Moalli, who will celebrate her 20th birthday on July 28, is looking forward to meeting other members of the Denitti family.
One of her first visits was with Paul's brother Matthew Denitti Jr. and his wife Marge Scanlon Denitti of Perryopolis.
Matthew and Paul were among 13 siblings born to the late Matteo “Mathew” Giglietti Denitti and Antonia “Antoinette” Abatantuono Denitti.
Paul Denitti was married at the time of his death. He and Rose Marie Erdely Denitti had been had been husband and wife for only two years when he was killed.
Rose Marie later married William Merashoff. and lived for many year in Ellsworth. She died at age 93 on March 15.
It was Marge Denitti with whom Clemence made initial contact about caring for Paul's grave in 2012.
“She was asking for permission to place flowers at Paul's grave,” Marge Denitti said in an earlier interview. “I told her that would be fine and greatly appreciated by the family. I checked with the others but I knew they would agree.”
In addition to the family introductions and the visit to Monessen, the Moalli sisters have been busy with considerable sight-seeing. They have toured Jumonvile and other locations along historic Route 40 in the mountains above Uniontown, and they are looking forward to trips to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.
“Mr. and Mrs. Steck have been most gracious hosts,” Clemence Moalli said. “Everyone we have met here has made us feel at home.”
Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media