Stories of Seven Local Heroes Remembered Decades Later

World War II was an incredible series of crossroads in which U.S. military personnel were brought together in almost infinite circumstances around the globe. Circumstances would indeed bring seven men from McKean County together in the fact that they each lost their lives during the war — each of them in famous actions far, far away from home. It must be noted that the retelling of the following stories were made possible by Joel Gilfert of Portville, N.Y., formerly of Eldred, who has compiled an extensive website covering McKean County’s service personnel who died in the wars throughout...
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Erie Paratrooper, Now 92, a “True American Hero”

In the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, Erie resident Joseph Morettini, a 19-year-old paratrooper with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, jumped from a Douglas C-47 Skytrain over France's Normandy coast. German anti-aircraft tracer fire filled the nighttime sky, and Morettini's first thoughts were that his life was about to end before he reached the ground. "When my parachute opened up, I thought I would be dead," said Morettini, a 92-year-old veteran who lives in the 1400 block of West 32nd Street in Erie. "I never saw so many tracers." Morettini landed about 16 miles i...
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Combat veteran: Smethport man Dille served during World War II, Korea

Smethport veteran Garvin Dille served in both World War II and the Korean War. A U.S. Navy veteran, Dille, 89, is one of the 65,704 American servicemen — government figures — to see active duty in both wars. Both times, Dille, a technical specialist, was assigned to repair ships, auxiliary vessels, staffed by capable crews of qualified repairmen and designed to provide maintenance support to warships that had suffered equipment failures or battle damage. Without his parents' immediate knowledge and against their objections, Dille still 16, quit Emlenton High School in 1944, while World W...
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Never Forget: Decorated World War II Veteran Nagel Shares His Story

Raymond Nagel Sr. remembers firing .50-caliber guns with each of his hands at a German submarine near the Brazilian coast with such accuracy that the enemy gun crews abandoned their stations on the doomed vessel. Nagel, a decorated World War II veteran with the United States Naval Reserve, and his family agreed to share his story to ensure that the battles fought in South America during the war are never forgotten. Now 92, Nagel remembers many of the details of that day in 1943 when he and others on a Navy patrol plane spotted a German submarine in the South Atlantic Ocean making its way...
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Movie About Olean, NY Native, World War II Vet Draws Crowds

Some were in line to see the movie “Unbroken” because of the religious aspect of Louis Zamperini’s life, while other movie-goers were enthralled by the Olean native’s Olympic and military history. The multi-layered life of Zamperini, the subject of the newly released Universal film directed by Angelina Jolie, brought in sold-out crowds Christmas Day and large crowds on Friday at the Carmike 8 Theater in Allegany, theater staff reported. The late Zamperini, a former Olympian and a World War II hero, was born in Olean in 1917 and died in July, a month prior to the dedication of a monument ...
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Inspired Story: Zamperini’s Son, Daughter to Ride in Tournament of Roses Parade

When Jim Bardenett was contacted in October to ride in the 2015 Tournament of Roses parade as a representative of Olean, Louis Zamperini’s hometown, his immediate response was surprise. After a few seconds, the Olean businessman felt “a bit overwhelmed” as he knew it was a special honor to participate in a parade that was honoring a true American hero. Read more from The Bradford Era  
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Heroic Battle: McElfresh to Talk About Father’s World War II Action in Eldred

As with many baby boomers, Earl McElfresh didn’t learn of his father’s heroic acts in World War II until he was grown. The story that most impressed McElfresh about his late father, Lt. John M. McElfresh, occurred on Oct. 25, 1944, the date of his most heroic action during the Leyte Gulf Battle which was the greatest naval engagement of World War II. McElfresh, of Olean, N.Y., will give a presentation on the battle — and his father’s role in it — at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Eldred World War II Museum in Eldred. Read more from The Bradford Era
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Warren K. Semmel Served as Guard at Nuremberg Trials

“My dad was a young soldier stationed in Germany at the end of World War II when he received orders to report for duty as a cellblock guard at the Nuremberg Trials, where Hermann Goering was among the top Nazi defendants,” said Warren E. Semmel, a retired Smethport teacher and high school principal. His father, Warren K. Semmel, was popularly known as “Johnny” in his Carbon County hometown of Lehighton, near the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania. After his parents died when he was 16 and still in high school, Warren Semmel dropped out of school and took a job with Swift and Co. About a yea...
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D-Day Remembered by Local Veterans

Seventy years later and half-a-world-away, Elmer DeLucia is still kept awake at night by his memories of the D-Day Invasion. “I haven’t slept too well the last couple of weeks,” DeLucia said. “I’ve been thinking about the guys.” On June 6, 1944, DeLucia and 73,000 of his fellow U.S. service men stormed the beach at Normandy, France in a full frontal assault on Hitler’s entrenched German forces. Today marks the 70th anniversary of the invasion which left an estimated 4,400 Allied troops dead, including 2,500 Americans. Read more from The Bradford Era  
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Bradford Resident Woodley Recalls Time in Service and How it Changed His Life

When Memorial Day parades and services take place today, fewer and fewer veterans from World War II, as well as those from the Korean War, will be among the ranks of those honored. One local World War II veteran, Jack Woodley of Bradford, recently shared highlights of his experience in the war as a Merchant Marine and how it changed his life. Now in his late 80s, Woodley is still active at the Limestone (N.Y.) American Legion. Prior to sitting down at an outside picnic table at the legion to talk about his war years, he had to put down a hammer as he had been helping with construction of...
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