For WWII combat veteran Art Sparky Faltyn everyday is Veteran's Day. Though the Exeter born and bread 92-year-old likes to say things like joining the Marines was the worst thing I ever did and the Marines put me through holy hell from day one, he often wears a Marines sweatshirt and hat and is proud of his service.
Well, he should be.
Faltyn was a foot solider who fought in some of the most iconic battles on the Pacific with the Marines at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima.
Faltyn was 5-5 and 115 pounds when he graduated from Exeter High School in 1941 where he played left field for the school's baseball team and earned the nickname Sparky, after a cartoon strip horse named Sparkplug, because he did every thing on and off the field at a frenetic pace.
He got a job at Sickerman's, a feed store in Exeter, then moved to New Jersey with his buddy Elliot Pellegrini where they worked for a defense contractor. When he got his draft notice for the Army in 1942, he joined the Marines, against the advice of his Marine brother Bert.
He was already in. He begged me not to do it, but I didn't listen. I thought I was a tough guy, but I found out I wasn't so tough.
Faltyn trained at Paris Island and New River, North Carolina, where he joined the newly-formed Marine Third Division. He also was sent to Texas and Catalina Island, California.
In typical military fashion Faltyn was given 14 days leave in California. He spent 12 of the days traveling back and forth across the country by train and two days home in Exeter.
At Catalina the division was outfitted with winter gear, expecting to be shipped to Kiska in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska which the Japanese had invaded.
But when Faltyn's troop carrier cleared the Golden Gate it turned south and headed to New Zealand, a staging area for the Pacific campaign. From there Faltyn was shipped to Guadalcanal with the Third Division, K Company, 21st Regiment.
When he got to Guadalcanal it was already secured and he saw limited action but won a battle star for protecting Henderson Airfield.
At the Bougainville invasion he saw a lone Japanese plane bomb and destroy a ship wiping out a division of Marines.
Bougainville was an island of mud and jungle so dense the men were issued machetes to hack their way in. Faltyn also experienced an earthquake and disease. We had dysentery, he said. We had to cut our pants, we didn't even have time to get them down.
On Guam he survived an earthquake and a desperate Banzai attack by Japanese infantrymen who charged with no concern for casualties.
You shot them like clay pigeons, he said. But there were casualties on both sides. That's where I lost two buddies, who are buried in Hawaii. His buddies were from Long Island and Brooklyn.
Also on Guam Faltyn witnessed Japanese women jumping to their deaths from 100-foot cliffs with their children in their arms, rather than face the Americans, who, the women were told, would rape and torture them and eat their babies.
From Guam, Faltyn was sent to Iwo Jima where he landed on day three of the invasion and went right into the thick of combat. The fighting was so fierce by nightfall of the first day only 30 of 700 men in his company rallied. The rest were dead, wounded or missing.
On Iwo, Faltyn was an acting sergeant leading a squad with tanks behind them. He led them under heavy fire to an airfield on high ground, where he and one of his men, a soldier from Texas, got pinned down in a bomb shell crater for most of a day.
From the crater Faltyn took recon on Japanese gun placements which paid off later when an officer asked him to lead a brigade of tanks loaded with much needed ammo up to the airfield.
With knowledge of how earlier tanks had avoided the minefield and of the Japanese gun placements, Faltyn rode in the back of a tank under heavy fire and by phone directed return fire. Faltyn received a commendation for meritorious action on Iwo Jima.
At least three times Faltyn came within seconds of being killed on Iwo. I was in a hole and I don't know why, but I jumped out of that hole and scrambled to another one and the hole I left took a direct hit. √? got shrapnel in my back. It was like rabbit pellets.
Faltyn could have gone back to the field hospital, but instead had the corpsman pull out the shrapnel with a scalpel and stayed at the front to be a mother hen to arriving green replacements.
In another close call Faltyn and another man were in a fox hole on guard duty in a perimeter around a camp, when a Japanese soldier came by and stood over them. Faltyn was wearing a rain poncho which would make a rustling sound if he moved. He froze and whispered under his breath to his buddy, a man named Frommer, who shot and killed the enemy soldier.
In a third instance Faltyn and his platoon were patrolling a river bank which he described by saying Imagine you were on the river bank in West Pittston.
Two of his men, including Angelo Bertelli, the 1943 Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, called Faltyn to a cave at the river's edge where they had found and killed a Japanese solider, who had a cigarette, still burning, in his hand.
Walking back up the bank, Faltyn came within 10 feet of Japanese solider who had grenade in hand with the pin pulled. Faltyn took two steps and leaped to the ground. The grenade flew over him and rolled away as his men opened up on the enemy.
They made minced meat out of him, Faltyn said.
Sparky's bother Hubert Bert was at Iwo Jima at the same time with the 5th Marines. Bert got a battlefield commission on Iwo, won a Navy Cross and has a Marine Corps League named after him in Salem, Oregon, where he settled after the war. Bert died in 1994.
From Iwo, where Marine losses were second only to Okinawa, Sparky was sent back to the states, where he pulled guard duty in Washington D. C. including at the Lincoln Memorial before being discharged in October of 1944.
Back home in Exeter, Faltyn visited a young girl, Anna Mae Hudak, who had been writing to 40 soldiers, including Faltyn.
I made a mistake,' Faltyn said with a chuckle. I told her I loved her.
Soon they were married. He was 25, she was 18 and still in high school.
His young bride had survived a severe infection and was told she couldn't conceive.
One day Faltyn came home from working construction and Anna Mae said, I'm pregnant. Startled, Faltyn dropped his lunch pail, shattering his thermos. He would shatter six more thermoses. He and Anna Mae had seven children: Norie, Paula, Artie, Mary, Toni, Joey and Patty.
In his post WWII life, after taking an art course at LCCC, Faltyn took up painting. His creations hang on the walls of his home. One depicts a soldier at Arlington cemetery. Another is of his wife in her wedding gown.
Patty, Faltyn's youngest, took in and raised a boy who came from a difficult family situation.
The boy, Joe DaSilva, a 2008 Wyoming Area graduate, considers Faltyn his surrogate grandfather and inspiration. DaSilva joined the Marines and will ship out for basic soon.
He's the reason. I joined because of Sparky, DaSilva said.