Maria Remembers: Reflecting on Papa’s Purple Heart

Maria Remembers Maria Capolarella-Montante


    As Wednesday, Veterans Day (Armistice Day) nears, I am remembering Papa. Not that it takes a special day to remember him, for he is in my thoughts frequently. Today, I am remembering Papa, the young soldier (the dough boy) who served in the United States Army during World War I or the Great War.

    Papa was an immigrant, born in San Cataldo, Italy, a little province located in Sicily. With the blessing of his mother, he migrated to the United States at 18 years of age to reside with his sister Maria in Pittston, Pennsylvania.

    A year after arrival, the continent that he left and in which his family lived was in turmoil and engaged in a bitter war that began in 1914. It was the war that President Woodrow Wilson promised the American people that the states would not engage in. The United States remained strictly neutral other than providing material assistance to the Allies. In May 1915, a German submarine sank the British ocean liner Lusitania, killing 128 United States citizens, creating an outrage in our country but still we remained neutral.

    In 1917, Germany announced that commanders of all U boats and submarines were authorized to sink all ships that were providing aid to the Allies with their goal to starve the British into surrender. President Wilson stood steadfast in keeping neutrality until German submarines sank numerous American cargo and passenger ships.

    On April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before Congress and requested a Declaration of War. On April 6, 1917, the United States officially declared war on Germany.

    The United States had a peacetime army that was selected by a draft. It was many young men in the valley who entered the service of our country, Papa too. He was a member of the 109th Field Artillery, Company 216, departing from the Assembly Hall in South Pittston.

    Papa was part of Meuse-Argonne, an offensive that lasted 47 days and experienced action in muddy trenches, bomb explosions and mustard gas attacks.

    It was during this encounter that Papa was wounded in battle and sent home to America

    Two million American troops fought and most were in Europe less than five months before the fighting ended. At 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, the peace treaty was signed ending the “war to end all wars.”

    Papa was awarded the Purple Heart. We don’t know when or how, and we never saw it until his death when Mama wanted the medal to be pinned on his chest.

    Imagine the feelings upon seeing the medal. It was emotions filled with pride and gratitude. Pride in Papa for being awarded the medal, along with the fact that he did not want attention drawn to it. Gratitude that he served his new country willingly and with honor, for leading by example the love of this country and always making us aware how lucky we are to call America our home.

    Prior to receiving the medal, Papa was presented with a large picture of a woman clothed as the Statue of Liberty doving a soldier who knelt at her feet with a sword on his right shoulder. The words inscribed are: “Columbia Given to Her Son the Accolade of the New Chivalry of Humanity.” Beneath the picture are the words: “Biagio Manganaro ‘Served with honor in World War and was wounded in action.’”

    The signature is that of Woodrow Wilson.

    The nation’s first military decoration, the Badge of Military Merit, was created by General George Washington on Aug. 7, 1782 by using cloth pieces of a purple sash worn across his uniform cut in the shape of a heart. It was awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers and not issued again for 150 years.

    On the anniversary of President Washington’s 200th birthday, the medal was renamed the Purple Heart. In February 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff, received the first Purple Heart and it was retroactively awarded to World War I veterans.

    During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on Dec. 3, 1943, decreed the Purple Heart would be issued to all branches of the military and would differ from all other decorations in that an individual is not “recommended,” rather the individual was entitled to the medal upon meeting the specific criteria of “wounds received while engaged in combat against an enemy of the United States of America,” according to

    Papa’s Purple Heart medal presently sits on the computer desk facing me. It is time to close the box and put it away once more. Not without tears of remembrance, pain and realization of what was and can never be again. Thank you, Papa.

    As we commemorate Veterans Day at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 with church bells tolling, sounds of sorrowful “Taps” playing and gun shots blasting in tribute to fallen men and women of all wars and to those who are now serving our country, let us offer our prayers and gratitude for their sacrifices, valor and love. God bless our military patriots and God bless America.

    Maria Remembers Maria Capolarella-Montante Remembers Maria Capolarella-Montante

    Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at

    Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at

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