The 75th anniversary of D-Day — the turning point in World War II — is this Thursday. The day will be marked with solemn ceremonies in England and France.
At least one Hampshire County man was in the invasion of Normandy that gray June morning in 1944.
Oreste Del Gallo told the Review his remembrances of that day and his service in the Battle of the Bulge and across Europe 10 years ago. He passed away in 2014.
What follows is a transcript of his 2009 interview, part of a series we did with World War II veterans from here called “Our War, Our Words.”
You can listen to Orestes tell the story himself at www.hampshirereview.com. His interview is under the blogs tab.
“My name is Oreste Del Gallo, Romney, West Virginia.
Branch of the service and rank: First Engineer Combat Battalion, rank D4, date of service December 9, 1941 to 1947.
Places I’ve been in the war: England, D-Day — almost got drowned but there was somebody helped me. I went through all the war, France, Belgium, Germany, Czechoslovakia.
The worst thing when I was in there was when I almost got drowned. Somebody helped me out I appreciated it.
When I almost got drowned I was in Normandy. We landed there by a town I can’t remember the name now, but we was in the first wave, Omaha Beach. We was a half an hour late because it was too dangerous to go in. There was no place to land us.
We landed at 7 o’clock. When we got off the liberty ship, we were walking in 2 lines and a guy from the left, he was up to his neck so I thought I’d be smart and I went over to the right, and instead I landed in a big crater and all them big waves pushed me back and forth and nobody helped me.
I was yelling and nobody helped so I laid down on my back and I had to get rid of my combat pack and everything. Then I looked up in the skies they was cold, drizzle, cloudy. When I looked up in the skies, I saw blue skies, no noise at all — till that guy pulled me out of the water. So I was 2 hours late before we get to that bridge.
From the water to the bottom of the hill was 300 yards, open field, nothing there. It was just Germans shooting. So thank God he said they looked out for me. Then there’s later things, too gross for me to say.
Now during the Battle of the Bulge, we was in the front line. After so many months they took us off the lines and we got replaced by the 99th Infantry Division.
So they told we go back to rest for 10 days. We pulled back to the border of Belgium and Germany. So, the 3rd day they started giving passes to go town. So the 2nd day I was there I had a chance to go in town. When we got in town I took a bath and was looking for something to eat.
Five minutes later, loudspeakers, and you see everybody run like a chicken with their heads cut off. It said report back to your officers, report back to your officers. The trucks will pick you up. So we came back to where we were in the woods. There they told us it was a breakthrough and we had to go back on the line.
And that was bad. A lot of guys got killed or wounded, and I got hit. But it was a light wound and of course a ways, we got 10 feet away there was a medic. He put some powder on, the powder, you know, and put a bandage on it. I never see him any more and I can’t claim a purple heart or not.
The medals I had, the Battle of the Bulge was one; Algeria, France, Morocco, Ardennes, Central Europe, Normandy, France, Rhineland, Sicily, Tunisia and Germany.
Campaign medals was distinguished unit citation, 2 oak leaf clusters, good combat medal, World War II victory medal, Belgian croix de guerre, France croix de guerre.
I spent 6 years in the service and when I came out they told me I was not an American citizen. So in ’47 I had to go and take my aide papers. I went down and signed the paper and they gave me my citizenship.
The best thing I could do for the country being an Italian, not a citizen, I thought the best thing I could do by me not speaking English. That’s all right; I made it. I’m glad I did my job.”
An anonymous donor has spurred a campaign to update Rannells Field at Hampshire High School with artificial turf and a rubberized track.
The donation will cover “a substantial portion” of the project, which will come with a price tag of about $1.6 million.
“A project of this magnitude is currently the norm for athletic facilities,” HHS Athletic Director Trey Stewart said, “and this project will bring us up to the level of our competition.”
The plan and associated fund-raising will be presented to the school board at its June 24 meeting.
At the school board meeting on Monday several members of the Hampshire athletic community spoke on the current status of the playing surfaces, including Athletic Trainer Kari Williams.
“The health and safety of our athletes is what I care about, and I see so many athletes with shin splints due to our asphalt track with the condition that it is in,” Williams said. “There is also a safety issue caused by all the cracks, the deterioration of the track and the uneven lanes that lead to things like athletes falling, spraining knees, ankles, elbows, and arms.”
Williams also noted that several research studies have proven there is a direct correlation between athletic and academic success, and in turn success in life.
Head Track Coach Megan Fuller detailed the struggles of practicing on an asphalt track that was laid before 1983.
“I ran on this track over 20 years ago, and now as a coach, I realize how far behind we are as a facility in the realm of this sport,” Fuller said. “It is well known that our runners do not have a competitive facility appropriate to hold varsity meets and probably not appropriate to hold middle school meets as well.”
In addition to the rubberized track, turf is planned on the football/soccer field that will effectively eliminate the constant headaches caused by weather and over-usage often seen with natural grass surfaces.
A turf field will eliminate the cancellation of sporting events due to treacherous field conditions while allowing the facility to be used for more purposes, more often, including public use for walking and jogging.
The construction of a new track and field will directly benefit high school athletes as well as local youth organizations. The new facility will allow programs to host major events, including soccer tournaments, track meets, band competitions, sports camps and large ceremonies.
Although the proposal has yet to be presented to the board, some details of the project have been unveiled, including the installation of a 6-lane rubberized track, field turf for the football field, new goalposts and new soccer goals.
Perhaps the most important item of note regarding the project is the permission to setup an ACH fund, or Automated Clearing House, which would allow small donors to have amounts withdrawn from their accounts automatically each month.
Stewart said the fund will be separate from the Trojan Athletic Association.
The initial start-up date for the project will depend on approval by the board, and the construction is estimated to take 100-120 days for completion.
“I would like the board and the community to give us a chance to succeed,” Stewart said.
The rain began on Friday night, soaking Hampshire High School’s graduation.
A coastal low kept funneling moisture from the Atlantic so by the time the clouds broke Sunday, parts of Hampshire County had been drenched by 7 inches of rain.
The flood of June 1-3 last year wasn’t 2018’s first (that dubious honor goes to an April 14-15 downpour), but it was the worst in a rain of misery from Hampshire County’s wettest year ever.
Twelve months later, federal disaster relief funds are only beginning to arrive in the county.
“It was so sudden,” said Brian “Tad” Malcolm, who runs Hampshire County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, “and we’ve still got a lot of people who haven’t recovered fully from it.”
That includes the congregation at Capon Chapel Church of the Brethren,
Last year Hopkins Lick Run was diverted at the 115-year-old church as debris blocked a culvert under the bridge on Little Cacapon Levels Road about 50 yards away.
The raging run surrounded the building and spilled into a neighboring field, destroying a shed and severely damaging the church’s pavilion. Blacktop laid down in the parking lot only 5 years earlier crumbled and was washed away. The bridge over the culvert was destroyed, closing the road to Levels.
Thankfully, water never made it into the church sanctuary, though the newest additions of the building took on water in hallways, the foyer and a bathroom.
Today, the church building is back in full use, but the parking lot remains a mess and the pavilion is still unusable.
“There are ruts and big ol’ humps,” church member Beverly Malcolm says. “Trustees are looking at having a bulldozer come in and level it.”
The West Virginia Conservation Agency spent about 2 weeks hauling out 1,000 cubic yards of woody debris that had collected near Capon Chapel. The WVCA restored the capacity of the stream, clearing a 1,000-foot section of the affected area.
Temporary fixes came quickly as the waters receded, from a missing lane of Capon River Road to a crumbled roadway that shut down the Bloomery Pike for a couple of days.
But permanent solutions are just now being funded.
“We just got word from Charleston last week to go ahead to get a consultant to do the design” to replace the culverts that collapsed under the Bloomery Pike in the northeast corner of the county, said Lee Thorne, chief engineer for the Division of Highways’ District 5. “We’ll probably replace with bridges rather than the arches.”
Still outstanding is the go-ahead from Charleston for slide repair projects. Those include pilings in 2 places along Capon River Road, another on Okonoko Road along the Potomac and a 4th on Croston River Road, Thorne said.
“Our heavy maintenance forces have done what they could with rock stabilization,” Thorne said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding repairs along the creek bed behind the Hampshire County Health Department in Augusta and for an access road to a radio tower in Bloomery, both damaged by the 2018 flooding.
In all, the federal government designated $1.8 million last July to disaster relief in Hampshire County, the lion’s share of $4.5 million allotted the 8 Eastern Panhandle counties in the wake of the flooding.
All the money was designated for government agencies and qualifying nonprofits, not individuals. Funds could pay fully to repair damage and in part for mitigation – work to try to prevent future damage.
For example, some mitigation funds will pay for extra stone to reduce damage behind the Health Department and to raise the road to the radio tower.
DOH says it’s better prepared for future disasters after what it learned in 2018. More rock has been stockpiled and better procedures are in place to get rock delivered to jobsites.
Big-ticket items like box culverts will still take some time to get in place because they’re too costly to stockpile.
For every stretch of Bloomery Pike or Cacapon River Road that is seeing work done, others remain as they were a year ago.
Milleson’s Mill Road, Wapocomo Road, Gaston Road and Taylor Road all were still impassable 3 days after the storm.
Other reminders from a year ago:
The South Branch crested at Springfield at 17.5 feet around 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 3. That was just shy of what the National Weather Service calls “moderate” flooding. It was back in its banks by 10 a.m. the next day.
At the Great Cacapon reporting station, the Cacapon River crested at 16.24 feet shortly before midnight Sunday night, right at moderate flooding.
The Potomac rose barely above the 25-foot flood stage at Paw Paw around 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
The water rescue squads from Romney and Springfield did their job 3 times between Friday and Sunday and spent the next 2 days in Jefferson County, helping out there.
At one point, all roads into Paw Paw were closed.
Crews had to use a grader to divert water near The River House in Capon Bridge.
The end of the annual sheriff’s kids camp came earlier and in a different locale from the rest of the weekend. Kids were moved from Camp Rim Rock on Capon River Road to the Capon Valley Ruritan Building in Yellow Spring for their parents to pick them up.
Kicking off with the National Anthem and then the sounds of “Home Among the Hills” by HHS’s show choir Harmony, the ceremony showcased motivational speeches and inspirational recognitions.
“I’m so proud of my class and all of the people I’m graduating with,” said Molly Landis, one of the graduating seniors. “I know everyone is going to do great things. Thank you to everyone.”
Addresses were given by the keynote speaker, actor Sam Pancake, Valedictorian Alexis Ravenscroft and Salutatorian Grant Mayfield.
Chris Fagga won the Striving for Excellence award and Gary Heishman won the A. Clinton Loy Award.
Some of the seniors said the experience of graduating is bittersweet, but they added that they are looking forward to the future – whatever it may hold.
“It’s a bit scary, but it’s very exciting to start a new adventure and start something new said Chasity Fout. Classmate Ashton Blaylock echoed the sentiment.
“It’s a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, for real. Not we’re closing the chapter of this book and opening up to the next one,” he said. “I guess we’ll see what the future holds for everybody.”
From here, graduates may go to college, the military or to work and faculty and staff said they are excited for their longtime students to pursue happiness and success out in the world.
“Congratulations; you’ve done it,” said Superintendent Jeff Pancione.
“I’m very proud of each and every one of them. It’s bittersweet. For most, I wear the title of superintendent, but for a select group in this class, I am also their former principal.”
He concluded, “I’ve seen them come from kindergarten to high school senior graduates. I’m very proud of them.”