Each year during Memorial Day weekend, movie theaters throughout America are gearing up for their busiest season, which operates the start of the summer blockbuster films. A major movie always kicks off the “summer” season on this weekend, and almost every weekend after is at least one mega movie. Ordinarily, I take this time to write an article about the upcoming films to hit theaters for the next three months. This time I’m choosing to write a different article. Although Memorial Day weekend is a time to relax, enjoy a few barbecues, enjoy your day off, spend some time at retail stores which celebrate with big sales, or check out the movie theaters that entertain audiences throughout the country. Some people are missing the point. Memorial Day reminds America of our past and of our servicemen both present and fallen. We are thankful and grateful for their courage, strength, and service.
I’d like to start my weekend by writing an article on my favorite sailor, my grandfather, Anthony Sarnelle. Born May 20, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York to Italian American parents, Anthony is one of five children, with two sisters and two brothers. At a young age, Anthony was always a hard worker. After school let out he would work as a delivery boy for grocery, fruit and vegetable stores, and butcher shops. On the weekends he would shine shoes for just five cents. But, his most prevalent job came in the summer of 1943 when he received a postcard from President Franklin D. Roosevelt just two months after his 18th birthday.
In those days, men had to register in order to get drafted into the war when they turn 18. Some of the registration places were held in schools. Anthony went to Junior High School 248 which was located on 86th Street and West 12th Street in Brooklyn, New York. After registering, men would sit by the mailbox waiting for the postcard to come, knowing that their time spent on the playground is nearing an end, and jetting off to war was becoming a reality.
In July of 1943, Anthony was drafted into World War II and had the option of which service to join. Anthony already had two brothers going off to the Army, but most of the men on his block were shipping off to the Navy, and wanting to be with his neighborhood friends, he chose the Navy as well.
In a few short days, Anthony set off to Sampson, New York for thirteen weeks of boot camp. He learned how to row, tie different kinds of knots, and endure all sorts of obstacle courses. After boot camp, he was allowed a one week leave and then he returned to diesel school to learn how to repair diesel engines. After diesel school, Anthony was allowed another one week leave and then relocated to New London, Connecticut for submarine school. While there, he endured more physical exams such as being placed into a pressure tank filled with fifty pounds of pressure with ten other men. Although not many men could handle the pressure, Anthony was of course one of the few. He also learned about torpedoes, deck guns, and how to test torpedoes. When he was finished with submarine school, he took a train to Vallejo, California. From there he was placed on a submarine tender to Pearl Harbor, and then placed on another submarine tender to Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean where he repaired submarines. Ten months passed and Anthony ventured onto a submarine entitled Silversides 236. He completed one war patrol which consisted of sixty days at sea, hunting Japanese ships. When he returned, he continued on the submarine tender as a motor machinist mate third class, until the opportunity arose where he was able take the test for motor machinist mate second class (which was about equal to that of a staff sergeant in the Army) which he passed.
Anthony spent almost three years in total in the Navy, from July 1943 until March 1946, he wrote to his family and friends three to four times a week. He was instructed not to write too much about his experience, where he was located, or what he was doing because mail at the time was censored. He made sure to always write his mother that he was okay, but would never elaborate.
Anthony has always been a jokester, even during his days in war. He considered his fellow naval men his brothers. There were roughly 60-70 men on submarines, and Anthony was one of the youngest. During his service, after the atomic bomb was dropped he bet another sailor $20 that the war wasn’t over, and sure enough he won the bet. He had to wait until November of that year to return to America and then was officially discharged in March of 1946. A few months later, his father was so elated to have Anthony home that he threw him his very first birthday party where he turned 21 years old. It was a big celebration. A lot of people from his neighborhood attended, although he discovered that several of his close neighborhood friends that got drafted with him to the Navy never made it home.
Although it has been nearly seventy years since Anthony was discharged, he still shares his love for his country, and speaks proudly of his courageous years as a member of the United States Navy. I’m truly honored to have the chance to not only learn about my grandfather’s time spent during World War II, but also to be able to thank him for his service, especially at such a young age and be grateful for all the other men and women just like him that are fighting for our freedom, today and everyday.
Anthony is now a retired New York City fire department Lieutenant. He resides in Manchester, New Jersey with his wife, Helen. In the summer of 2009, he was awarded the New Jersey's meritorious service medal for his service in sea operations during World War II in the Asiatic Pacific Theater of Operations. He was overjoyed that he was able to receive this honor with his wife, some of his children, and grandchildren in attendance.
If interested in honoring servicemen for Memorial Day this weekend, check out Fleet Week in New York City, beginning May 21st-May 27th!