Peeking into the past: World War II POWs hold reunion

Peeking into - the Past - Judy Minsavage


In 1948, Why did the Sunday Dispatch publish the names of the first people who were about to do something that was not widely accepted at the time?


Technical sergeant Sam Bianco, of Pittston, serving with the U.S. Air Force in Germany, helped distribute clothing to German orphans. Two truckloads of clothing and gifts donated to the Wiesbaden Orphanage through Bianco’s efforts arrived in Germany from the St. Mary’s Assumption Church in Pittston. Rev. Henry Diehl, pastor of St. Mary’s, collected items from his own congregation on Bianco’s behalf, as well as from churches on Carroll and Searle Streets and from various Pittston merchants.


The Exeter Lions Club decided to offer financial assistance to the Little League in Exeter Borough and the rest is history. The first games were played on St. Cecilia’s field. Then the league moved to Pennsylvania Coal Company land, obtaining after a 99-year lease. Mayor Andrew Mauriello was league president from the mid-1950s to 1960s. The next president Mike Ciampi started the Exeter Teeners program. The original teams from 1953 were Beretta Construction, Daileda Insurance, Exeter Echo and Petrillo Excavating. According to the league constitution, the Exeter Little League objective is to implant in the children the ideals of sportsmanship, honesty, loyalty, courage, and respect for authority. Little League Baseball was founded in 1939 by Carl Stotz, a resident of Williamsport,. The first three teams were Jumbo Pretzel, Lycoming Dairy and Lundy Lumber.


James Melberger, of West Pittston, accepted a $10,000 check from Willard Smith, manager of the West Pittston plant of American Chain & Cable Company. The donation was provided to the West Pittston Little League president to aid in completion of the league’s swimming pool construction project in West Pittston. The check was a gift from the William T. Morris Foundation established in 1937 by Morris, past president of American Chain and Cable and borough resident. Morris was born in West Pittston in 1884.


The Luzerne County Chapter of PIAA Basketball Officials honored Major League southpaw Joe (Joseph Paul) Ostrowski, of West Wyoming, for his 18 years as a courtside official. Prior to becoming a basketball official, Ostrowski pitched for the St. Louis Browns until 1950 when he was traded to the New York Yankees. He spent three successful seasons with the Yanks as the team won the World Series in 1950, 51 and 52. In 2010, Ostrowski, Don Johnson, Hank Workman, Charlie Silvera, Jerry Coleman and Whitey Ford were honored at Yankee Stadium on Old Timers Day.


John Pirrello, Sam Marranca, Mike Wills, Charles Pirrello, Toke LaPorte, Joseph LaTorre, Charles Burns, Cataldo Pirrello, Jan Mauriello, John Gubino, Sam Giordano, Thomas Foley, Nick Mauriello, Nick Spinelli, Leo Galli, Henry Jones and Connie Dukas gathered at LaTorre’s Steak House in Pittston to say so long to long-time friend Lou “Sonny” Butera, who was leaving for a “position” in Philadelphia. Butera, who became fascinated with the game of pool at the age of 14, went on to win the World Billiards Championship in 1973, and earned the name “Machine Gun” for his rapid style. After winning many more championships throughout his lifetime, Butera was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame in 1986. He passed away in June 2015.


Captain Philip Fogli, a West Pittston High School graduate, returned home from duty in Vietnam and visited the school to express his deep appreciation to members of the school’s student council. The 74th Reconnaissance Unit that Captain Fogli served in Vietnam adopted a special Christmas project, which gathered toys for the Lai Theu School for deaf and mute children. Student Council officers William Simonson, secretary; Michael Butera, president; Michael Blandina, treasurer; and James Gustainis, vice president, helped with the Captain’s project bringing toys to the Vietnamese students in time for the Christmas holiday. Father Armar, a missionary priest, opened the school for hearing and speaking-impaired children at Lai Thieu in the early 1900s. The school survived the fall of Saigon in 1975 and became the Thuan An Center.

During World War II, Michael Cicon, of Wyoming, was hit by shrapnel as he bailed out of his plane hit by enemy fire over Romania. After hiding from the enemy and treating his own wounds, he was captured and sent to Prison Camp 13, Timis De Jos in Romania where he met fellow airmen and prisoners of war, Frank Suponcic, of Luzerne; Philip Rurak, Massachusetts; Bill Treichler, Elizabethtown; Francis Dolly, Texas; and Charles Reed, of New York. In 1969, the six men gathered for a reunion at the Pittston Elks Club to reminisce about their 13-month wartime ordeal. Cicon’s plane, a B24 Liberator, was struck on a low-level bombing run over the Ploiesti Oil Field in Romania. Gen. Jacob E. Smart, a four-star general, conceived the successful strategy for the daring World War II bombing raid on oil refineries at Ploiesti. Romania was one of the largest oil producers in Europe and Ploesti was a major part of that production.


Debutantes Maureen Michelle Kelly, Falls; Margaret Mary Adams, Exeter; Debra Marie Okupniarek, Wyoming; Sharon Marie Walker, Pittston; Deborah Ann Chikowski, West Pittston; Mary Ellen Patrice Fasciana, Pittston; Mary Beth Bradigan, Philadelphia; Lois Mary Guarilia, Duryea; Nancy Ann Gillispie, West Pittston; and Carmelita Florence Cumbo, West Pittston, were presented at the annual Debutante Ball sponsored by the Fourth Degree Assembly Knights of Columbus J.F.K. Council at Fox Hill Country Club. According to the Knights of Columbus website, each degree of the organization is associated with a virtue, the fourth being patriotism and the ideals of Catholicism. Founded in 1882 by Irish-American Catholic priest Father Michael J. McGivney, the Knights is the world’s largest Catholic fraternity and is named in honor of Christopher Columbus.


The West Pittston Fire Department celebrated its 90th year with the opening of a new hose company building. The company was first organized in 1889. In 1894, the company purchased a four-wheel hose cart drawn by a team of horses. In 1900, the cart was replaced by a hose wagon. In 1919, a “motorized” fire truck was obtained. Organized in 1891, Captain George Lewis and members listed as Williams, Adams, Searle, Courtright, Campbell, Cook, Barber, Radcliffe, Bryden, Rolen, Dendle, Stanton, Richards, Davis, Thomas and Marritt, were four-time Pa State Champions of the hose company’s racing team. Officers in 1979 were Arnold Embleton, president; William Bohn, vice president; Hayden Thomas, secretary-treasurer; William Goldsworthy Jr., fire chief; Bennett Carpenter and Ron Foy, assistant chief; Jerome Walsh, foreman; Jeff Carpenter and Jamey Smith, assistant foremen.


In 1948, it was reported in the Sunday Dispatch, “Officially this is the first person who has come out into the open in Pittston with the a vowed intention of installing an oil burner.” The unpopular act of homeowners and businessmen considering heating their properties with oil burners instead of anthracite was evident as the Sunday Dispatch published the names of people who applied for an application to do so. Joseph Simone, of Pittston Twp., a contractor, applied for a permit to install an oil burning heating system in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Angelo Baglio, of Pittston.

This day in history

1863 — Stonewall Jackson smashes Joseph Hooker’s flank at Chancellorsville, Virginia.

1865 — President Andrew Johnson offers a $100,000 reward for the capture of the Confederate President.

1890 — The Territory of Oklahoma is created.

1919 — The first U.S. air passenger service starts.

1968 — The U.S. Army attacks Nhi Ha in South Vietnam and begins a 14-day battle to wrestle it away from Vietnamese Communists.

1970 — Student anti-war protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University burn down the campus ROTC building. The National Guard takes control of campus.

Born today

1866 — Jesse Lazear, American physician and researcher of yellow fever

1877 — Vernon Castle, ballroom dancer

1892 — Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron), German fighter ace of World War I

1895 — Lorenz Milton Hart, lyricist, collaborator with Richard Rodgers

1903 — Benjamin Spock, pediatrician, author and activist

Peeking into

the Past

Judy Minsavage

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